In all likelihood, the NCAA Tournament will expand to a field of 96 teams, possibly as soon as next March. NCAA head honchos convened Thursday to sketch the blueprint that would fuse the NCAA Tournament field with the current NIT field to form one watered-down, bracket-bursting mega-tournament. I’m fairly confident that this is how that meeting went down:
Bigwig No. 1: “We have two college sports that the majority of Americans care about: football and basketball. With the economy in a downward spiral, we need to make sure we are making the most out of the demand for these two products.”
Bigwig No. 2: “And with the perfection that is the BCS, there is nothing more we can do with football. So let’s turn our attention to the basketball postseason.”
Bigwig No. 3 (the only sane, non-airhead in the room): “Wait, what’s wrong with the NCAA Tournament? Hasn’t this year’s tournament been one of the greatest of all time?”
Bigwig No. 1: “That’s not the point. We can haul in more revenue than we currently are. After all, CBS is only paying us $6 billion for the TV rights.”
Bigwig No. 2: “You know what they say, ‘If it ain’t broke, you should still try to fix it.'”
Bigwig No. 3: “That’s definitely not the saying.”
Bigwig No. 1: “96 teams it is!”
In economics courses, professors preach that everyone’s main goal is profit maximization. The NCAA is clearly following this model. But the NCAA must have skipped class one day, because profit maximization via expansion will only lead to a decrease in interest and demand. You don’t have to be Ben Bernanke to realize the potential harm being done to college sports’ postseason gem. Here are five reasons why expansion will ruin college basketball. Unfortunately, in the minds of the NCAA decision makers, money trumps all of them.
Just like a community college, we let everyone in
Minnesota snuck into the tournament with a 21-13 overall record, 9-9 in Big Ten play. Florida snatched a 10-seed with 12 losses and a 9-7 mark in the weak SEC. Yet, these teams would actually be favorites in their first round contests of an NCAA Tournament that featured 96 teams. That’s like Kool-Aid without sugar. No one wants to see America’s prized postseason watered down that much.
We won… Now what?
The new format for allotting bids would grant a ticket to each conference’s regular-season and conference-season champions. So, if Duke wins the ACC regular-season title, then how does Coach K’s squad approach the conference tournament? With a tournament bid in hand, the only prize left to play for is pride. Each league’s regular-season champ would be well-advised to rest its starters during the conference tournament, which would just be, well, awkward.
Lowering the standards
The standard for at-large bid consideration has long been a .500 conference record, at the very least. The NCAA claims it wants to place more emphasis on regular-season play, but this won’t help. With resumes like the ones Minnesota and Florida recently sported, earning them spots in the field, we could now be subject to teams with below-average conference records playing for postseason supremacy. Ladies and gentlemen, with an overall record of 15-14, 6-10 in the SEC, here’s your No. 22 seed, Auburn!
Goodbye, Greg Gumbel
Despite how often the network’s Top Men opt to air the less-exciting games, nothing compares to March Madness on CBS. From the profoundly overplayed Southwest Airlines commercials to Gus Johnson’s glittery voice, there is no channel that could present the multitude of games in such a fan-focused manner. Part of what makes the tournament so special is the fact that all of the action is contained in one place. Everyone knows when and where to turn for March’s excitement. If CBS and the NCAA mutually agree to part ways this summer, it could trigger an arrangement for the NCAA Tournament to be shown on a variety of networks, including cable channels. This unsystematic setup would certainly take away from the uniformity that piques viewers’ interest.
The end of the office pool era
The odds of filling out a perfect tournament bracket currently stand at about 1 in 1 trillion. I won’t even attempt to determine the chances of guessing correctly on every matchup in a tournament that includes 96 teams, byes and 9-seeds facing 24-seeds. Expect the number of office pools to decrease dramatically. No one wants to exert that kind of effort.