The NCAA Tournament Expansion to 96 Teams

If you've done any surfing of the tubes lately (particularly the ones that carry sports news), you've read about the proposed and likely expansion of the NCAA Tournament to 96 teams.

There's no point in crying about how you don't fix something that isn't broken. There's no talking the NCAA out of it. John Feinstein of the Washington Post basically humiliated Greg Shaheen in front of the national media in attendance. No matter.

Considering the economics of the situation, it's a certainty. Whether you are for it (which appears to be a large minority - something like 82% on ESPN's Sportsnation poll do not support the idea) or against it is irrelevant. Expansion is coming. It's simply a matter of when.

Who should be the most upset? Obviously there's a case to be made for the non-major conference teams. I'm not convinced they're even getting screwed. As much as we like it the way it is, the current system is not without its own major flaws. That a team that utterly dominates its conference could lose one game in its conference tournament and not make the NCAA Tournament is A COMPLETE joke. Adding more teams will add some undeserving major conference teams to be sure, but it will also end the unjust exclusions that are already happening for those that have by all means earned the right to play for a national championship.

So who's getting screwed the most?

The elite. The Kentuckys, Dukes, and North Carolinas (although not this season, eh Tar Heel fans? WINK WINK). Frankly, this might be for the greater good.

Parity + single-elimination + more teams participating = less likelihood of the Kentuckys, the Dukes, and the North Carolinas of college basketball winning championships. Yes, the top 32 teams would get a bye out of the first round in this scenario. Frankly, the 1 seeds (generally reserved for the elite programs) are already getting byes out of the first round, since no 16 has ever pulled off the upset. Adding another full round just decreases the likelihood that any team, regardless of seed, makes it through the tournament unscathed. Instead of 5 games with a first round "skip", 1 seeds get a hungry 16 or 17 seed that is in all likelihood an upset-minded major conference team that might be hot. Certainly, this has to be considered a much more daunting opening opponent than the current 16s have been since the field expanded to 64/65.

Who does it benefit the most? The Vanderbilts of major conferences. Vanderbilt has never been known for lengthy NCAA Tournament appearance streaks. Getting there has typically been a struggle.

Expanding the field basically guarantees that a perennial bubble team like Vanderbilt will make the field year-in and year-out. Obviously, you've got to be in it to win it. More chances to win a national title can't be a bad thing for a school like Vanderbilt. True, making the field won't be such an accomplishment anymore. But I'd trade that diminished since of accomplishment for more consistent opportunities to compete for a national championship.

Expanding the field certainly makes it more difficult to win a national championship by way of simple mathematics. It's harder to win 7 games in a row than it is to win 6 consecutive. In my eyes, ending the injustice that is the exclusion of regular season conference champions that failed to win their conference tournaments as well as making it harder on the "elite" is the sugar to help this forced medicine go down.

Of course, this is not to say that there aren't better solutions to the ultimate problem (regular season conference champions being excluded from the field). I think 68 is a nice number, with all regular season and conference tournament teams being automatic qualifiers, followed by at large selections for the best remaining teams, (68 minus the # of AQs) with 4 play in games for the last 8 at large teams taken, followed by seeding and pairings for a 64 team tournament.

On the other hand, 67 tournament games (63 games plus the four play-in games) won't generate nearly as much revenue as 95 tournament games will.

I'm just trying to make the best out of the inevitable. What's your take?

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