Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A 96 Team NCAA Tourney?!? Really?

College basketball is in full swing now, with most teams nearing the middle of their conference schedule. Since my Tarheels are having a down year (losing at home to GTech and UVa in the same month), I haven't been nearly as enthusiastic about this year's upcoming edition of March Madness. After winning it all last season in Detroit, it's entirely possible the young and clueless Heels might even miss the field of 65 this year. But if the NCAA's latest plan to pad its pockets expand the tourney comes to fruition, the whole concept of "bubble teams" will cease to exist.
An expanded NCAA tournament could bring new meaning to March Madness.

The NCAA is exploring whether to opt out of its current 11-year, $6 billion TV deal with CBS and expand the men's basketball tournament field from 65 teams to 68 or 96 teams, according to a report in Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal.

The publication obtained a copy of a request for proposal sent from the NCAA to potential broadcast bidders late last year. In the 12-page proposal, the NCAA outlined a 96-team split format where an over-the-air network pairs with a cable network to broadcast the tournament. CBS and Turner Sports are in discussion for a joint bid. ESPN and Fox are considering whether to do the same.

In the proposal, a field of 68 would add three "play-in" games. In a 96-team field, 31 games would be added.

Expanding to 96 teams would mean more than one-quarter of Division I teams would make the tournament. There are currently 347 Division I men's basketball teams.
I totally hate this idea, and the reasons are many.

Too Many Darn Teams - Making the tourney is a great accomplishment for teams now, simply because there are so few spots. Some schools go decades without making it. Opening the floodgates to another 30 some teams is only going to cheapen the product, since making the NCAA's is something special for smaller schools. Likewise, another round of games more than likely means more teams from "BCS" conferences will send even more mediocre teams to the tourney. Mid-majors might benefit, but I doubt it. Do we really need 8 Big Ten teams in the tourney?

Too Many Darn Games - The element of surprise in a 5 vs 12 or 3 vs 14 matchup is what makes the tourney so great. Now, the likelihood of a surprise team like George Mason making it all the way to the Final Four diminishes even more, because these teams will likely be playing tougher big conference opponents earlier in the tournament.

Cable TV Shouldn't Be Showing NCAA Tourney Games - The magic of March Madness is that all the games are played on CBS, during the day. This offers the biggest stage possible for small teams to get their shine on national TV. In all likelihood, these new early round games will be relegated somewhere in the muck of basic cable. What's exciting about that?

Too Many Damn Tournaments - At present, there are already 3 other post-season tournaments that serve as consolation prizes for the teams that don't make the Big Dance. This only further dilutes the level of talent that these pointless tourneys can field. It also further diminishes the point of conferences holding their own post season tournaments to determine their precious automatic bids. Those won't be nearly as important now.

This Is Clearly All About The Money - The NCAA supposedly cares about the plight of its student athletes, yet here it is creating yet another revenue stream distraction that takes even more kids out of school, all in the name of what? This is obviously about getting a bigger TV contract, which is just sad. This only further reinforces my notion that these players should be getting some direct financial benefit (ie: profit sharing) in return for all their grunt work.

The most idiotic thing about this is that the NCAA still insists that a BCS playoff system for college football would be too much of a demand on its student athletes. But on the other hand, they have no issue adding even more games on the roundball side. Yeah, makes sense to me too.

Question: Should the NCAA expand March Madness to 96 teams?

NCAA mulls expanding NCAA tournament to 96 teams [OrlSentinel]

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