The three-team expansion is much more modest than 80- and 96-team proposals the NCAA outlined just a few weeks ago at the Final Four. The move coincides with the new, 14-year broadcasting arrangement that interim NCAA president Jim Isch said will provide an average of $740 million to its conferences and schools each year.
So there will be four play-in games instead of one. That’s great news for the last three bubble teams, but I think it sucks for the auto-bid conferences that always get 15- and 16-seeds, because now instead of getting to play a Duke or Kentucky or Kansas, they’ll be stuck with a Vermont or a Prairie View. Which is to say, for half of them their Tournament experience won’t be any different than a regular season game for them, except it’ll be on TV. I suppose no one really cares about that, though.
The men’s tournament last expanded in 2001, adding one team to the 64-team field that was set in 1985. Talk of tweaking March Madness again generated a lot of chatter from fans worried the competition would be watered down and those who feared the additional bracket guesswork needed to predict a winner.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who favored expansion, said the proposal was “better than nothing.”
“As a coach I’d like to see more people get in but 68 is a good step and the easiest way, to have the least amount of turmoil,” Boeheim said. “There’s really no way to do a little bit bigger expansion. You can’t expand by eight, 10. There’s no way to figure that out. This is the easiest way and hopefully down the road there will be a bigger expansion.”
I seem to recall they went from 48 to 64 all at once, so I don’t think the 96 team proposal would have caused that much actual turmoil, outside of the usual wailing and gnashing of teeth that these things always bring about. Be that as it may, there’s no reason future expansion can’t or won’t happen, and once people are used to the idea of 68 teams, it may be easier to take the step to 80. We’ll see how it goes.