Let the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the reactionaries begin.
The NCAA appears to be on the verge of expanding the men’s basketball tournament to 96 teams.
Insisting that nothing has been decided, NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen nonetheless outlined a detailed plan Thursday that included the logistics and timing of a 96-team tournament, how much time off the players would have and even revenue distribution.
Shaheen said the NCAA looked at keeping the current 65-team field and expanding to 68 or 80 teams, but decided the bigger bracket was the best fit logistically and financially.
It would be played during the same time frame as the current three-week tournament and include first-round byes for 32 teams.
Although the plan still needs to be approved by the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee and passed on to the board of directors, most of the details already seem to be in place.
“We needed to make sure that we did everything possible to use the due diligence window to understand ourselves and understand what the future would hold,” Shaheen said. “So that’s what we’re doing, that’s the process we’re undertaking. We’ve been handling it every day for the last several months and years, as we studied for the benefit of the organization.”
As you know, I favor this idea, and I think that the doomsayers are largely full of it. Sure, this is about money as much as anything else – what isn’t these days? – but it’s also sensible and is in my opinion more likely to intensify interest in the tournament than dilute it. I also think you’ll see some more competitive games in the first round for the top seeds.
“I don’t see any watering down at all,” Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. “I think there are a number of teams playing in the NIT that could have gotten in, and I think there will be more people and more excitement with more teams in.”
What you’ll get with NCAA96 is the 34 or so teams that everyone agrees are Tournament-worthy, plus the automatic qualifiers from the little conferences that seldom win games – bear in mind, of course, that the Horizon League, home of Butler, used to be one of those conferences – plus the teams that would have made it to the NIT, most of are better than many of the teams in the second group. Putting it another way, the 23 and 24 seeds of tomorrow are the 15 and 16 seeds of today. Whatever seeds survive to play the #1s will almost certainly be a tougher matchup for them than the 16 seeds are now.