One word about NCAA tourney expansion to 96: lunacy

Imagine how trying to fill out a 96-team bracket would cut into President Obama's work day?

Imagine how filling out a 96-team bracket would cut into President Obama's work day.

The Super Bowl is the single biggest event in sports, the latest evidence being that we’ve just spent the past two weeks debating what commercials we should or shouldn’t be subjected to while we’re trying to focus on our beer. And nachos. And beer.

(By the way: Received yet another email today from an organization asking me to interview them about “family.” I would’ve thought ignoring the first 23 emails about “family” would’ve been a hint. Are “family” organizations oblivious to hints?)

Are you favor of NCAA tournament expansion?

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Where was I? Oh yes, sports. The Super Bowl may be the biggest event, but the NCAA basketball tournament is the best thing going. It contains everything we love about sports, particularly upsets and underdog stories. It’s (almost) perfect the way it is.

This idea of expanding the field to 96 teams? Lunacy.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt has long pushed for expansion. He believes the fact that only 65 of 347 teams (18.7 percent) make the tournament is insufficient. In terms of pure math, he may have a point. Think about it: 12 of 32 teams (37.5 percent) make the playoffs in the NFL. But I’d be more inclined to support the idea of significant NCAA expansion if we had been witnessing a few upsets by Nos. 15 and 16 seeds now and then. And we haven’t.

Georgia coach Mark Fox put it best: “To reach the tournament should be a very special accomplishment. There are not 96 teams that are deserving to go.”

Because almost every decision is based on money — and more tournament games means more televised events and, therefore, revenue — there is a reasonable chance the tournament will expand in some form. Here’s my compromise: More play-in games.

Right now, two teams are chosen to play a game for the last of 64 spots. Expand that to four games. If you really want to go crazy, have a play-in tournament and shorten the regular season.

In short, 60 slots will be filled by automatic and at-large bids. The other four spots will be determined by eight teams trying to play their way in.  This expands the small-school presence that makes the tournament special, without watering the the tournament down.

Expansion to 96 teams also would render the regular season relatively meaningless.

Then again, in a 96-team field, the ACC could probably get nine or 10 teams in the tournament, and I’m assuming that would make Hewitt happy.

107 comments Add your comment

Oh yeah!

February 5th, 2010
2:48 pm

azcat225

February 5th, 2010
2:49 pm

The way Hewitt “coaches”, that is the only way he can guarantee making the tournament every year.

GT in CT

February 5th, 2010
2:54 pm

Agreed. No more than 68 total. No one wants to see more mediocre teams from the major conferences; they had their chance to prove themselves.

boston dawg

February 5th, 2010
2:54 pm

more play in games, maybe, but 96 is ridiculous (although, coincidentally, i have heard that ‘96 gonna be that year).

yawn. is it football season yet?

Ivan Vasilii Vladivostok, aka "Pasha dat a$$"

February 5th, 2010
2:57 pm

Da Jeff, Lunacy!!!

EW

February 5th, 2010
3:05 pm

Easiest argument you’ve ever had to make…and you’re right

DoBoy

February 5th, 2010
3:12 pm

96 teams is ridiculous. The lowest seed to make a Final Four was a #11 seed (ie. in the top 44 teams in the tournament) and the lowest title game participant was a #8 seed (ie. in the top 32 teams).

Most Final Four/championship teams are usually in the top 4 seeds.

Having 96 teams is an unabashed money grab and dilutes the significance of making the tournament at all. It’s like having a 6-6 football team playing in a post-season bowl game.

Keeper

February 5th, 2010
3:13 pm

Spiders won as a 15-seed, taking out Syracuse, as well as from the 12, 13, and 14 slots – the only school in the nation to do so. (They’ll be back dancing this year, thanks to the A10’s best guard tandem – both Atlanta kids, by the way.) But I agree, 96 teams would really water the product down.

Jason

February 5th, 2010
3:15 pm

Jeff,

I agree. 96 teams is insane. I could reasonably see the expansion to 68, but I have no preference for it, since those teams are going to get stomped by #1 seeds anyway. However, if it does expand to 96 teams, then I think that coach K from Duke has the best plan. Require the regular season champs of each conference (not just the big ones) to be awarded an automatic bid. This would ensure that really good teams from small conferences do not get excluded. If there is a need for expansion the need really arises for the sake of small conference schools. It would be pointless to admit teams 7 through 10 of the ACC, Big East, and Big Ten. Expansion without thought to ensure the small conference schools are included would absolutely diminish the tournament. Expansion that helps the great small conference teams would benefit the tournament.

DoBoy

February 5th, 2010
3:18 pm

96 teams in the tournament is like having a .500 football team playing in a postseason bowl game.

The lowest seed to make a Final Four was a #11 (ie. a top 44 team in the overall seedings) and the lowest champion was a #8 (ie. top 32 seed).

Adding more teams cheapens the accomplishment of making the tournament.

Jason

February 5th, 2010
3:19 pm

I also forgot to mention that it was a shame a few years back that a small conference school went 20-something and 0 into their conference final, then lost the final and had to sweat to see if they were in the tournament. Can’t remember if they got in or not, but there should have been no question. These are the types of teams that need to be in the tournament. (Sorry I can’t remember the year, school, or end result, but I do have the distinct feeling of sickness for that team when they got upset in their final by a mediocre team in their league that just played well in the conference tournament.)

Technophobia

February 5th, 2010
3:20 pm

It’s crazy. If they want to expand the post season they should expand the NIT not the NCAA’s.

Eastside Jacket

February 5th, 2010
3:20 pm

The college presidents who have forever said we can’t have a football playoff because it would extend the season too long are now going to vote to expand the basketball tournament to 96 teams.

Hypocrisy at it’s finest.

Marsha

February 5th, 2010
3:21 pm

Hewitt’s answer is very self-serving.

Keep it at 65, or possibly add three more play-in games, but 96 teams is absurd.

Technophobia

February 5th, 2010
3:21 pm

Good point, Eastside.

Mike

February 5th, 2010
3:24 pm

If you think you should be in the NCAA tournament, win your conference tournament! Every team in the country that is in a conference except the Ivy League can get in the NCAA with a win in your conference tournament. It’s kind of funny they use the too much missed time in class argument as to why there is no football playoff, but they can take basketball players out of class another weekend. These are the same kids who play road games during the week too. 96 teams is insane.

carolina jacket

February 5th, 2010
3:28 pm

Hewitt doesn’t just want it, he needs it. His current employment security (rediculous contract) is threatened by CPJ’s success which has contributed to the fan base’s dissatisfaction with the bball program. With the exception of the talent led run to the NCCA championship game, his 10 year history is pathetic (lowest total no of ACC victories over past 3 years). If you define a successful season as making the NCAA tournament, as most do, then adding more teams produces more succesful coaches. Of course one and done does take some of the luster off the accomplishment, but with 31 additional patsies, a guy like Hewitt that can recruit talent but can’t coach has a better chance of getting to the second round.

Bob Horner stayed hurt

February 5th, 2010
3:29 pm

I actually like expanding to 96….assuming one thing…it cannot interefere with the 4 days of “The Masters” coverage that I watch every minute of……

UGA Slobberknocker

February 5th, 2010
3:36 pm

Its not insane; its overdue. Right now at least 20 or so conference champions get into the field every year despite the fact they are nowhere close to being one of the top 64 teams. Subsequently, good teams are left out. But the little guys and the upsets are what make the tourney special..so this way everybody is happy and it only adds one more day to the tournament. All you do is give the top 8 seeds in each bracket a bye ..play the first round the same night the play in games are played now. it wouldnt extend the toruny a single day. It is a great idea and would stop all of the whining about who gets ;left out..Id rather have the 70th best team ticked off than the 40th best team which is how it is now. It is a great idea..

buick59

February 5th, 2010
3:38 pm

just the bowl season nowadays, this would reward mediocrity which is becoming a national pasttime

PMC

February 5th, 2010
3:42 pm

it would just water down the already watered down.

Essentially you invite the NIT tournament members….and screw the NIT. In a year there are maybe 3 bubble teams that could be deserving that don’t get in…. tough. win more quality games or win the tournament. It’s not like there are all these deserving teams not making it in.

RxDawg

February 5th, 2010
3:43 pm

Not only is exapanding the tourny a bad idea, they should cut it. A 32 team playoff is more than enough. I might actually start watching it if they cut it down to 16.

Keeper

February 5th, 2010
3:45 pm

By the way, the last year there were multiple play-in games – 1984, with five play-in games, just like you’re suggesting now – Richmond played its way into the main 48 by beating Rider. Then they really did the impossible – they shut up Charles Barkley by knocking off his 5th-seeded Auburn. Thought you’d appreciate that one in particular, Jeff.

Any play-in expansion should be limited to non-BCS conferences – the 20-game winners still sweating out a bid like Jason referenced. The best part of the NCAAs is wondering where the next Cinderella will come from. I’m all for giving the small schools an extra shot at the big guys, because regardless of whether they can really win the whole thing, those early upsets are what differentiate the NCAAs from anything else and make the tourney compelling.

Bob Horner stayed hurt

February 5th, 2010
3:50 pm

Keeper….funny, I remember that game..Barkley turned out to be best pro…but Chuck Person was best player that Auburn team….IMO

Otto

February 5th, 2010
3:53 pm

..and this is what so many want Football to turn into. Yawn

SMH

February 5th, 2010
3:55 pm

That photo shows the most work that Obama has done in over a year.

SMH

February 5th, 2010
3:56 pm

Oh, and a 96 team field sucks.

Otto

February 5th, 2010
3:57 pm

64 team field sux. Agreed SMH

Take it down to 32 and the regular season may mean something again.

GoJackets

February 5th, 2010
3:58 pm

They should keep it where it is at. Dont water it down more. It will start to get as bad as the college football post season. With the exception that there would still actually be a real champion.

GoJackets

February 5th, 2010
3:59 pm

Take it down to 32? Have 31 automatic bids and one at large bid? That would really suck for a conference like the big east.

Asheville Dawg

February 5th, 2010
4:00 pm

Eastside jacket you are 100% correct. Expanding the March Madness to 96 teams would be insane. There just aren’t 31 teams deserving to go. And what would happen to the NIT tourny? Which the teams left out can play for a title, just like the bowl system.

Otto

February 5th, 2010
4:00 pm

Yes 32 no autobids just top 32 in rankings.

PS CFB has a real champion.

sam

February 5th, 2010
4:01 pm

howe about have a 347 tean tourny, a few warm up pres-season gaems and then the whole season can be one big tournament. word of advise, dont mess with the one good, pure thing left in sports!!

Asheville Dawg

February 5th, 2010
4:03 pm

And thank you Jeff for writing about something other than HOCKEY!

Otto

February 5th, 2010
4:04 pm

Hockey was more interesting than another 32 teams when nobody cares until atlest the Sweet 16 anyways.

GoJackets

February 5th, 2010
4:08 pm

If you take away automatic bids then the NCAA wont sanction the tournament anymore and it will become a joke. A bunch of old men voting on who they think is best, just like college football.

Otto

February 5th, 2010
4:11 pm

GoJackets, It is a joke now. The ratings have been falling to prove it.

Football is making millions with ratings on the rise.

MELLOW YELLER

February 5th, 2010
4:13 pm

if it is expanded to 130 the doggies might make it one day NAH prolly not

Phildo

February 5th, 2010
4:18 pm

Would love a play-off in football rather than the phoney-balonney BCS, but this is ridiculous. As has already been noted, maybe the only way for Hewitt’s teams to make the field, but even then, it would be iffy. What ever happened to earning your way into the play-offs by winning in the regular season? But, oooooooh, that may hurt someone’s feelings. Can’t do that. BS.

GoJackets

February 5th, 2010
4:19 pm

So its all about money? Should we ruin the sport so that CBS can make more money? Is that what you are saying? Think about this also, all of those conference championship games during championship week would all of the sudden become not important at all. That surely isnt going to make ESPN happy since they broadcast all of them. Actually, conference tournaments would be useless as well. There would be no point in watching them. Several TV stations would lose money because of that.

Haul Blewitt

February 5th, 2010
4:29 pm

juvenal

February 5th, 2010
4:29 pm

march lunacy?you gonna trademark that(i got a cousin who is a trademark attorney)if people are stupid enough to put up with the POINTLESS lunacy that is the b(c)s(no OFFICIAL ncaa champ); who cares what else they screw up, i almost never watch anybody butTech anyway(ewww!-more chances to see cph sitting on bench looking like he has no clue as to what is happening, if he doesn’t like the calls why doesn’t ever stick up fror his kids by getting a technical, letting it go so they get their own?)

Otto

February 5th, 2010
4:34 pm

I am saying make interesting again. If it is interesting it will make money. The system as it stands is boring.

Yes conf tournies would go by the side but IMO the regular season would be more interesting as you have to play well to get in all year, more would be on the line each making better schedule and more fan interest.

Otto

February 5th, 2010
4:35 pm

on the last line *line each game making for better schedules

Otto

February 5th, 2010
4:38 pm

Also the SEC Tournament was moved to Tech with how many people getting in to watch them. What an uproar (whisper) that people did not get in to see the games. That is the sad state of basketball… all conf vs conf smack aside that is sad to see that Basketball has slipped to that level.

Minnesota Dawg

February 5th, 2010
4:39 pm

I think it should be like the all the other playoffs we have in this country. The winners of the conference tournaments and the wildcards which would be the runner up teams in the conferences.

Don't change March Madness!

February 5th, 2010
4:39 pm

The very idea of this is rediculous. The only people who think that a 64-team field has “problems” are supporters of big-conference schools who are on the bubble every year and more often then not get left at home. So here’s a “solution” to this “imaginary” problem of a too-exclusive tournament:

Only a certain number of teams from any conference can get in… say, 4 or 5 or 6. Sorry, major conferences… if you want to make it into the big dance, be a 20-game winner and a conference tourney semifinalist. That way the only at-larges from a conference will be a top-5 team who MIGHT have gotten upset in a counference quarter or semi. No more getting 8 or 9 freakin’ teams from ONE LEAGUE in, while the runner-up in the Horizon or MAC or whatever gets left at home with 22 or 23 or 24 wins.

This would eliminate these rediculous 17-11 teams that are middle-of-the-pack in their league from always getting in, where they inevitably lose in the 1st or 2nd round anyway. Let’s take some slots AWAY from barely-above=average teams like Purdue, Maryland, USC, Nebraska, Clemson, Washington State, South Carolina, etc. and give them to some of these mid-major conferences. It is a SHAME when some plucky little school goes 23-8, makes it all the way to the league championship and then loses to a top-10 or 15 team like Gonzaga or Davidson, and then gets left at home for the Big Dance so that an 18-12 Minnesota team can go to San Antonio and lose to Butler by 20 in the first round.

Enough mediocrity… reward EXCELLENCE!!! And expanding to 96 teams would only reward mediocrity and make more money for the NCAA and CBS television.

By the way, one last thing to think about: I’m not a huge baseball fan, but year in and year out, the MLB playoffs are the best. Why? They are SUPER exclusive! Four teams — only four — make it from the AL and the NL. You could have a loaded division sometime were the Yankess, Red Sox, Rays and Blue Jays all win 85-95 games and dominate baseball, but a couple of those teams would be left at home.

The exclusivity and the prescious nature of getting into a championship tournament make winning a title all the more special. Going to a post-season where almost everybody makes it is not as rewarding (see the NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs, and the current college FB bowl system.)

Keep the NCAA basketball tourney field as it is… nobody below 64 or 65 deserves to get in, anyway, and would NEVER win a title. Keep it what it is: the most exciting 2 or 3 week period on the sports calendar.

Don't change March Madness!

February 5th, 2010
4:41 pm

Enter your comments here

Ted Striker

February 5th, 2010
4:43 pm

Expanding the NCAA tourney to 96 teams is like tossing Viagra to Hugh Hefner. We all know you can invite Hefner to an orgy for giggles — but it’s the Johnny Depp’s and Andy Roddick’s and Leo Decaprio’s and Ted Striker’s who are gonna still be swinging from the chandeliers with 5-6-7 hot chicks apiece at 5:00 a.m. on Sunday morning — and still going strong.

Hefner will be one and done (just like Cal State Northridge and Bethune-Cookman-Tupperware-State) at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday night.

p.s. Paul Hewitt’s comparison of the NCAA tourney #’s to NCAA Football bowl games numbers made no sense. Did Hewitt conveniently forget there’s such a thing as the N.I.T. tournament for teams that might not be good enough to make the NCAA bracket?

Don't change March Madness!

February 5th, 2010
4:43 pm

I DID enter my comments! *sigh* Lovely computer system you got here, AJC…. anyway, my POINT was this: Keep the field at 64 teams but ONLY allow a certain number of schools from each conference to make it… 4, 5 or 6. NO MORE 8 or 9 teams from one league getting in… sorry, if you’re 17-11 and middle of the pack in the Big 10 or SEC or Pac 10 or Big East or ACC or Big 12 or whatever, you DON’T GET IN! Save more spots for these 23-8 mid-major teams that make it all the way to the conference championship game, only to lost a heartbreaker in OT. Then they sit at home while an 18-12 Minnesota team gets in and gets pounded by 20 points in the first round.

Keep it at 64! The exclusivity makes it great… expanding to 96 teams would only reward mediocrity.