The NCAA sounds is seriously considering a proposal to expand its season-ending men's tournament to 96 teams from the current 65. That could happen as early as the 2011 men's tournament.
The doomsayers, of course, will say this means the tournament will be watered-down -- that making the tournament field won't mean as much, that the regular season won't seem as important and so on.
I'm old enough to remember those exact same arguments being made 25 years ago, in 1985, when the tournament expanded from 53 to 64 teams. And that worked out just fine, didn't it?
I know this is a calculated money play -- that more games means more TV money, and that the NCAA is looking for a lot more cash from its No.1 cash cow. Still, I'm fine with it, because I think it gives the average sports fan more of what they're looking for.
The top 32 teams will receive first-round byes in the NCAA proposal. The remaining 64 teams would need to win seven games to win the NCAA title, not the current six.
And the tournament would remain in its current three-week time frame -- the extra games would be played in Week 2 of the 3-week tournament, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays -- so it's not like the tournament will suddenly be swollen by an extra week.
It would be harder to fill out a bracket with your friends -- picking 95 outcomes?! -- but that's all right.
And I believe the regular season would still mattter. There are now 347 teams playing Division I basketball -- even with 96 in the field, you're eliminating 251 of them right off the bat.
I do agree with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who says that the regular-season and conference champions from each conference should get an automatic berth in a 96-team field. That makes a lot of sense, and makes the season itself more meaningful.
Here's the counter-argument, expressed by ESPN analyst and Charlottean Jay Bilas in a Time magazine article (I love Jay, but disagree with him on this one): "I just think there aren't 96 good basketball teams," Bilas said. "And so what we're essentially saying is that we're going to allow 32 more teams who we think are just as good as the crummy teams that are in at the end of the line. That sounds harsh, but this ain't Little League, where everybody gets to play three innings and everyone gets a trophy and certificate of participation."
To me, it sounds like this is coming. And I hope while they're at it they disband the NIT -- it's such a meaningless tournament at this point, and most of the current NIT field would now make a 96-team NCAA tournament field anyway.
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