Folks, we need to brace ourselves for this. If you’re at all like us, and we suspect that you are, you’ve been holding out considerable hope that the beauty of this year’s NCAA Tournament — all the great first weekend games, the four regional finals coming down to the wire, the story of small-school Butler making it back home for the Final Four — would somehow sway the powers-that-be to leave things well enough alone. But we know people like this, and you know people like this. What we see as perfection, like the Mona Lisa with nary a blemish, they see as an opportunity to sell more Mona Lisa tickets and merchandise. Profit motive is ALL these people care about, and when that’s your rather obtuse worldview, bigger is always better. The rest of it be damned. But as one politician recently put it, it’s coming… whether we like it or not. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney, one of the voices of reason in previous interviews on expansion, has apparently now landed on the side of the profiteers and money men as well. He said in an interview with USA Today that he thinks that expansion is ‘probable,’ reflecting a growing sentiment among NCAA college presidents that this is a good idea. The NCAA Board of Directors will meet in late April and the topic is on the agenda in light of the decision to opt out of its current television contract with CBS and entertain other offers.
So even though something like 11% of people polled on SportsNation are in favor of expansion (an unscientific poll, but do you know anyone supporting this?), it’s time for all of us to take it up the arse buck up and figure out how we’re going to come to terms with this. So in the spirit of turning the other cheek, seeing the glass as half-full and other meaningless aphorisms, we’re going to present you with five reasons that Expansion 96 will actually (ahem) make the NCAA Tournament experience better. Blasphemer, thy name is RTC… we know. Feel free to skewer us on the spit along with NCAA Executive Director Jim Isch (email@example.com) if you like.
The 2010 NIT Has Been Eminently Watchable. Getting past the joke that the NIT is the “Not Invited Tournament” and so on, the ‘junior’ tourney’s games this year have been surprisingly competitive and fun to watch as a hoops-fix during the interregnum between NCAA dates. Since the NCAA is talking about simply synthesizing the NIT into the NCAA Tournament, the 32 NIT teams would (mostly) populate the bottom third of the new legal-paper sized bracket that everyone would carry around with them. And although very few hoops fans other than those of the NIT teams bother to follow the games, the quality of play has improved over the past several years and it would probably make more sense to have everyone in college basketball focused on the same national postseason tournament every year rather than split between two (we’re not keen on including the CBI/CIT yet).
The First Weekend Becomes the First Week. Under the new format of 96 teams, we presume that the games would begin on Tuesday following Selection Sunday and run for six consecutive days through the following Sunday. It would break out like this: Tuesday (16 games), Wednesday (16 games), Thursday (16 games), Friday (16 games), Saturday (8 games), Sunday (8 games). The basketball bonanza of the opening weekend has just become the opening week, so go ahead and take off the entire thing from work. Now, you may say along with everyone else that you’re really not interested in watching a Texas Tech-Seton Hall game because it represents two bad teams where somebody has to win, but are you telling us that you wouldn’t be intrigued by a UNC-William & Mary first round matchup? Or UConn-Northeastern? We’d by lying if we said that those games weren’t interesting to us, and you would be too.
The Regular Season Still Matters. For the old-timers who lament the days when winning the regular season meant something, expansion will help make good on that issue. No longer will teams from the smaller conferences put together great seasons only to be left out in the cold on Selection Sunday because they had a bad day in the conference tournament. The new Tourney would include all tournament and regular season champions plus the at-larges, rewarding nearly every team that had a really good season.
The Bye is a Huge Incentive For At-Large Teams. Presumably the best 32 teams as determined by the Selection Committee would get the first round bye to the Thursday/Friday games. Staying above that line will be a HUGE incentive for those schools. The possibility of winning three games in five days against quality opponents to advance to the Sweet Sixteen is far lower than it is to win two games in three days. This will help prevent teams who are safely in the NCAA Tournament from not giving their all (“coasting”) during the end of the season and/or their conference tournament because of the possibility of slipping below a #8 seed. And those teams who are in the #5-#12 range during the last month of the year will have considerably more to play for every night out.
- Potentially Better Storylines. We all love when a Cinderella breaks through to the Sweet Sixteen. Consider the possibility of a team rated in the bottom 32 teams winning its first game against a marginally higher-seeded opponent and then follows it up with a win against a bye team. The third game of the week for that team will be fraught with excitement as they’ll then be facing in all likelihood a top-16 team for the right to move into the second weekend. There will be more time to get to know these Cinderellas and support them as the Tournament builds to its opening weekend crescendo. Additionally, there will be a greater likelihood of a #1 seed losing its first game. The really bad small conference teams will lose in the opening round, leaving all four #1 seeds to play a marginally better team with a win already under its belt. Rather than the MEAC team du jour, it could potentially be a dangerous BCS team like Northwestern or St. John’s this year.