Put this down as the beginning of the next phase of insanity in the NCAA:
The calendar turned to March this week, which means one of our nation's most celebrated sporting events is just around the corner. Two Sundays from now, CBS studio host Greg Gumbel will read off the names of 65 college basketball teams. Millions of fans around the country will race to fill out their brackets. Many will find excuses to skip work or take long lunch breaks the following Thursday and Friday, as another NCAA tournament tips off.
But behind the scenes, executives in charge of this multibillion-dollar event are holding discussions that could drastically alter the future of March Madness. On the eve of potential network television renegotiations, committees and panels representing the NCAA and its members must soon decide whether to implement the first major expansion of the tourney's field in 25 years.
"There is any variety of future possibilities being considered," said Greg Shaheen, the NCAA's senior VP of basketball and business strategies. "The options, trust me, are endless."
Last month, the popular blogger SportsByBrooks reported that unnamed ESPN sources claimed the NCAA's move to a 96-team men's basketball tournament was a "done deal." Nothing involving the NCAA happens that quickly, but it's clear that expansion -- long dismissed as a far-fetched possibility -- is a distinct possibility. The SportsBusiness Journal obtained a copy of a request-for-proposal the NCAA issued late last year to numerous media entities gauging interest in a possible 68- or 96-team field.
That's six brackets, rather than four, in my estimation, meaning that it will be the Final Six, not the Final Four. Well, does that make sense?
There aren't enough teams in Division I worth consideration for a 96 team bracket. Yes, there really are 347 Division I teams. How many of them, year to year, are worthy of tournament play? Fewer than 64, sir. Fewer than 64.
Let's think about what the first round in the NCAA tournament is like. You have a lot of clunkers.
Expand it? Well, let me tell you what you'd have. You'd eliminate the NIT, which is fine by me. You'd have a lot of clunkers. You'd have games that would make a grown man cry in his sleeve for the boredom and the missed shots. You'd have at least 30 teams or more that would make it by default every single year, regardless of merit. You'd have the entire Big East and the ACC in every tournament, practically. You'd have coaches being fired for failing to win barely enough games to qualify. If you can't get your team to a 96 team NCAA Tournament Bracket, yes, you probably deserve to be fired.
More importantly, more games and more students playing means less academics. Anyone considered that? Of course not. It's all about cash money, sir. Diluting your product won't do the trick, though. If anything, go back to a 32 team bracket and make the big schools really fight for a spot. Make it harder to get to the Final Four, not easier. Fewer games would mean more people would watch the ones that are telecast on cable or the Internet. Fewer games would mean everyone would be more likely to see every single game and the advertisers could turn around and soak everyone even more.
Anything that gets between the schools and their money is going to be run over like a frog on the freeway. No one cares what a blogger thinks, and the only thing that matters is if a school like Georgia Tech or Washington State can get a boost from getting to the tournament.