• There has been a lot of talk recently about expanding the NCAA Tournament from 65 teams to a field of 96. Expect to hear a lot more talk about this subject over the next few weeks as we prepare for this year’s version of the Big Dance. To put this as plainly as possible, a 96 team NCAA Tourney is a bad, bad, bad idea. The folks who favor this expansion cite giving more teams a shot at the title as the biggest benefit of this plan, but we all know this is being driven by the almighty dollar. More teams in the field means more games on television for advertisers to spend beau coups of money on. More games also means the possibility of bringing in more networks – like ESPN – into the mix so they can get a piece of the pie. Also, keep in mind that many coaches who support expanding the field have bonus clauses in their contracts for making the NCAA Tournament.
For the third season in a row the Virginia Tech Hokies find themselves squarely on the bubble of making the NCAA field. The last two seasons the Hokies were unquestionably one of the last teams to be left out, or one of the infamous “first four out”. They certainly would have been included in an expanded 96 team field. But to what benefit? 31 additional teams will without question water down what has become one of the biggest events in all of sports.
Look at the college football bowl season where new bowls are added each and every year which now allow for every mediocre and sometimes downright bad 6-6 team to make the post season. Do you watch the Eagle Bank, International, Papa John’s or GMAC Bowls? Is this what we want to happen in college basketball? We already have an event – and a pretty good one at that – that allows teams that weren’t quite good enough or didn’t quite win enough games to make the NCAA field to participate in the post season. It’s called the NIT.
Proponents of the expanded field also cite giving each and every team – from maryland – baltimore county to kansas – a shot at the national championship. Well hello…every conference with the exception of the Ivy League has a conference tournament with the winner getting an automatic bid to the Big Dance. Thus, every team has the opportunity – no matter how remote the chances are – of making the NCAA Tournament and winning the national championship. Certainly not every sport can say that every team does in fact have a chance to win it all.
Don’t get me wrong, I want nothing more than the Hokies to get an NCAA bid. But I want it to be an earned reward for a great season, not just a ho-hum reward for a mediocre season. To me, part of the excitement and anticipation of these late season games – like tomorrow’s 4:00 showdown against georgia tech – is seeing if the Hokies can knock off one more quality opponent in order to impress the selection committee and earn their way into the field. These games sometimes become elimination games – just like the tournament.
If there must be expansion, then how about expanding from 65 to 68 teams, with the eight lowest seeds playing in the infamous “play-in” games for the right to get slaughtered by the #1 seed a couple of nights later? This would allow three more teams who would currently be snubbed and who may have quite a case for making the tournament – like the Hokies in each of the past two seasons – a chance to play under the big lights.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, could someone please explain to me how you would fit 96 teams onto one pool sheet? Enough said!