Call it what you want, but that’s what college basketball fans might be experiencing as soon as next season.
The buzz today among college hoops lovers is the latest talk regarding changes to that holiest of holies, the NCAA Tournament. According to an article on the website SportsByBrooks from earlier today, after this season, the NCAA could very well opt out of its current deal with CBS and start negotiating with other networks for broadcasting rights, either in whole or in part. We’re not saying it’s going to happen for sure, yet, and Jeff Goodman reported this afternoon that it’s not a “done deal” according to the NCAA. But the talks that are evidently taking place about this are assuming an expanded tournament field — specifically, a 96-team beast — which would evidently meet with the approval of at least one big-time coach (and certainly countless others).
As for when the NCAA will make its decision, your guess is as good as any, but late spring/early summer would probably be a good bet. Sports Business Journal, citing the NCAA’s RFP (request for proposals) on the matter, states that the organization has until August 31, 2010, to opt out of its current $6B deal with CBS, and can do so at any time prior to then. Undoubtedly no decision will be made until after the 2010 season is complete, but with the NIT contract also up for renewal after this season, there’s a strong indication that the NCAA could be looking to fold that tournament into the Big Dance. Other networks said to be in the mix for the Dance include ESPN (no surprise, they’ve been there), Fox (Joe Buck? Calling NCAA hoops?), and Turner Sports (OK, now we’re alarmed – keep the Carays 500 miles away from any and all NCAA events).
Obviously, money is at the heart of these talks, as it is at the center of any negotiation. Increasing the number of tournament teams by 50% to a 96-team weirdness would obviously add untold revenue to the pockets of both the NCAA and the winners of the TV rights. It would also screw up the nice, even, symmetrical bracket and add a round or two of “bye games.” Adding rounds means you’ll have venues dying to host those games, and probably an extra week added onto an event that already spreads eleven days of actual game play over three weeks. And of course, the most important issue; the NCAA could never again hold up its alleged value of the term “student-athlete” as some badge of honor. With money as the only motivating factor here, it sounds like they’d still be willing to pull a greater number of students out of class for a longer amount of time.