Friday, April 9, 2010

Is 96 the New 65?

A lot has been said so far regarding the possible change to the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament from 65 teams to 96. I'm sure there will be much more to come once the Board votes to expand the tournament and/or cancel the current TV contract with CBS in hopes to rake in even more cash. So I thought I would give my two cents worth on the topic in a Good, Bad and Ugly format.

Good - the expansion of the tournament to 96 teams would give more hype and enthusiasm to the first week of the tournament. I love the first two days of the tournament with 16 games in one day and four games going on at the same time most of the day. Now you would have that on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday! How can you NOT love that!

Bad - With 65 teams, you can already claim that adding a sixth, seventh or even eighth team from a conference that comes in as a #11 or #12 seed could be considered diluting the pool of teams. Adding another 31 teams could mean that you are now adding a ninth or tenth team from the Big East or SEC to the tournament. North Carolina and Connecticut would have made the tournament this year under the 96-team format. They barely made the NIT this year. Would the Selection Committee be more committed to adding second or third teams from a mid-major conference or more BCS conference teams with sub-.500 conference records?

Ugly - My brackets are ugly enough with 65 teams. I do not even want to comprehend right now how bad it could be with another 32 games to pick.

Good - Better opportunities for coaches. Most school's benchmarks for coaches is whether or not they can make the NCAA tournament on a consistent basis. You basically have three or four years to either make the tournament or make it back before you are typically shown the door in a BCS conference school. Two if you are coaching Kentucky. Allowing another 31 teams would give more chances to teams and coaches.

Bad - Teams that play on Thursday or Friday now have to play an extra game since the #1 thru #8 seeds would have a first-round bye. It would be harder for a Northern Iowa to upset a Kansas. A #9 seed would have to beat the #24 seed on Thu./Fri., then the #8 seed on Sat./Sun. and then would face the #1 seed on Tue/Wed. Meanwhile, the #1 seed would only have to play the winner of the #16/#17 matchup on Sat./Sun. before meeting the that #9 seed. So Northern Iowa would be playing its third game in six days while Kansas would be playing its second game in four days. By the time the #9 thru #24 seeds make it to the Sweet Sixteen, they are now playing their fourth game in eight days. The games are such an emotional and physical drain that playing that many games in a short period will make it hard to maintain the momentum to make it past the Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight. The teams that get the bye will have an added advantage the further you get into the bracket.

Ugly - Trying to find enough excuses to miss work on Thursday and Friday plus the following Tuesday and Wednesday to watch all of the games. After a couple of years I'll be left with rickets, scurvy or knocking off a relative (sorry, Uncle Joe) in order to skip work.

Good - More money from a re-negotiated contract will mean more monies for the conferences and schools which will trickle (supposedly) down to other sports at those schools. Obviously basketball and football are the revenue-generating sports that help fund the lacrosse, track and field, soccer and other sports at a vast majority of colleges. Adding another round of games should, in theory, allow the NCAA to milk more money from one or more networks.

Bad - Students missing more classes due to the extended schedule of games. Granted, this only affects a portion of those in the tournament, but the NCAA seems to be willing to sacrifice some more of the athletes school time for more money. The irony of this is the main argument of the NCAA's stance against a football playoff is that it would mean students would miss more school. Oops.

Good - I am OK with expanding the number of teams if the NCAA chooses to give the regular season champions AND the conference tournament champions automatic bids. Personally, I feel that the conference tournaments devalue the regular season for most of the non-BCS conferences. For teams in the Ohio Valley Conference or Summit League, if you won your conference's regular season, but lost in the conference tournament, then you have been typically hosed unless you have a resume like a Butler or Gonzaga.

If you give the automatic bids to the regular season and conference tournament champs, then you are giving more credence to the regular season and less emphasis on the conference tournament. You may still have one team that wins both (such as Murray State and Oakland this year in their conferences) and that is OK. Now teams would have more to play for at the end of the regular season than just adding a banner to your ceiling for winning your conference's regular season and a #1 seed in your tournament.

Bad - I'm guessing the expansion to 96 teams would mean the end of the NIT. Sad, but the NIT has unfortunately been relegated to second-tier status for a few decades and since the NCAA owns the tournament, they can kill it. Or at least I hope they would kill it. Granted if they do not kill it, it would be the same as adding the teams that currently play in the CBI and CIT tournaments. Which is starting to reach the bottom of the barrel as far as teams that are worthy to play in the post-season.

Ugly - this would unfortunately mean more of Jim Nantz. Is it a requirement with CBS to use Jim Nantz for all of its major broadcasts (Super Bowl, NCAA Final Four, The Masters, etc.)? I'm so fucking tired of Jim Nantz. At least CBS got rid of Billy Packer, so there is still some hope...

Expansion for the sake of money is not necessarily a good thing but don't knock expanding the tournament just because it will be a change to a beloved two and a half weeks. There were plenty of people who griped and complained that moving to 64 teams was blasphemy! And now we believe it is the something sacred that should not be messed with.

The more I think about it, the more that I can see that expanding to 96 teams could be a good thing. COULD. At the moment, I do not have faith in the Selection Committee to do what is good for basketball and not what is good for the BCS conferences. If they put something in place that would aid the mid-majors such as giving automatic berths to the regular season and conference tournament winners, then this could become something even better than this season's awesome tournament. But this could just as easily be a money grab by the NCAA and the BCS conferences and continued screwing of the mid-majors conferences. Only time will tell.

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