(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


Not much to tell.

Add to Technorati Favorites

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Will the NCAA Expand the Field in the Men's Bracket?

It's all about the bucks, kid. (I think it was Gordon Gekko who said that in Wall Street).

Click here for an article in the New York Times on the subject. Note that it's the coaches from the more academic-oriented, low-Division 1 schools that contend that the NCAA will be diluting the honor of making the tournament and the brand if they permit 96 (of about 336 Division 1 mens' hoops teams) into the tournament. I suppose, then, that they'll re-name the NIT the NOT tournament (perhaps signifying the "Nincompoops Only Tournament"). Lest I digress. . .

Here's what the NCAA is contending with:

1. The NCAA men's basketball tournament constitutes 90% of its revenue.
2. The NCAA has the right to opt out of its contract with CBS after this version of March Madness. ESPN might be waiting in the wings and willing to pony up more money for the tournament.
3. The economy stinks, opportunity is knocking, ergo. . . if another network shows the money, CBS can kiss March Madness goodbye.
4. The big-time schools will love this, because you can't begin to think that the NCAA will be doing this to ensure that two teams from each of the 31 conferences receiving automatic bids gets in. So, unless two Ivies have transcendant years and beat some bigger-time schools, it's very likely that only one team from conferences such as the MEAC, the NEAC, the Ivies, the Patriot, the SWAC, etc., will go dancing. But, think of the fun you could have watching the #6 team from the Pac-10 playing the #9 team from the Big East in a Round of 96 play-in game.
5. The coaches absolutely want this. Remember, many get fired because they cannot get their teams repeatedly to the NCAA tournament. Expansion means greatly increasing their odds, particularly in the 6 "major" conferences. So, go 18-12 every year, you might earn, what, a #26 seed.
6. Tom Izzo makes a good point, though. Expansion might end teams scheduling cupcakes to puff up their won-loss total. Which means, of course, that coaches could take a page out of John Chaney's book and actually schedule some formidable teams early in the season. Somehow, I don't think that will happen as much as Izzo contemplates, but it's a good thought.
7. The word "hypocrisy", of course, comes up, too. For years, the BCS schools and the NCAA have argued against a Division I-A post-season tournament for the laughable reason that a tournament will cause the kids to miss more school. But Divisions I-AA and III, particularly, which have more academically inclined schools among them, have post-season tournaments. And, do you mean to argue (convincingly) that expanding the NCAA tournament won't distract the kids more, either?

65 teams always puzzled me, and 64 teams sounded about right. Heck, I'd compromise at 72, figuring that there are about half a dozen or so teams whose bubble bursts every year and who might be worthy. That type of expansion will guarantee a few things -- 1) at-large bids for Mid-Major schools (at least as many as 8), 2) that bubble teams won't get penalized when the odds-on favorite in a Mid-Major conference loses in its conference tournament (thereby guaranteeing that conference two spots but pushing another worthy team out of the tournament and 3) that more than 25% of the Division 1 population doesn't go to the tournament, thereby making getting a berth pretty scarce and, thus, valuable.

It has struck many observers that the problem with 2 of the 4 major professional sports leagues is that the seasons are way too long for as many teams as make the playoffs. Way too many teams make the playoffs in the NBA and the NHL, and both those leagues suffer from oversaturating fans with meaningless games and playoffs that are endless. It's preferable when the regular season means something and when teams that are less than top-notch make it to the post-season. The NCAA might just be making a similar mistake, and my guess is that if they do so the stats after five years will bear out that no seed below a #48 really has a chance, which will kind of make the whole exercise of expansion pointless.

But if the NCAA has created a structure where so much of its funding depends on a single sport, it might have left itself with little choice other than to take its Golden Goose and put it on steroids.

Watch out.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Always thought that the purpose of a tournament was to figure out who the best team is. With a 64-team field (65 teams is foolish), we can be pretty certain that the best team in the country will be in that group. No reason to expand further, and take more kids out of school (these guys are supposed to be students, aren't they). I'd prefer a 32-team field, but if I released my name, every bookie and barroom drunk would kill me.

9:10 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home