NCAA tournament expansion still possible

Published February 04, 2010

| AP

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The NCAA has met with conference commissioners, university presidents and athletic directors about the possibility of expanding the men's basketball tournament.

So far, it's slow going.

The NCAA started talking about expansion in the fall, along with numerous topics in all 88 championships, and hasn't gotten past the discussion stage yet.

"It's still a work in progress, so there's no further developments or status from (the fall)," NCAA senior vice president Greg Shaheen said. "It's just a series of ongoing dialogues with interested parties, but nothing definitive to even analyze at this point."

It certainly hasn't stopped the conversation.

Many coaches and administrators like the idea of expansion and believe its a necessary step to accommodate a growing game. There are more teams than ever — 347 in Division I — more depth in the bigger conferences and more talent at the mid-major level.

Whether it's increasing the tournament field to 68 (four play-in games instead of one) or enveloping the NIT to make it a 96-team field, more teams are bound to add up to more excitement, the thinking goes.

"If you're talking about adding more teams, I don't think the games would change a bit," Texas Tech coach Pat Knight said. "They'd be just as competitive and I think you'd see more Cinderella stories, more teams people didn't think had a chance and there'd be a lot more upsets if the NCAA expanded the tournament."

Another argument is that a larger field would give teams from smaller conferences a better chance of getting in. Giving automatic bids to the regular-season and conference tournament champions would reward consistency while still allowing for surprise.

"That would add more relevance to the regular season, instead of just having big games being bracket busters and things like that," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "I could see it going to 96, but if they do, I would like to see the regular season champs rewarded. That would give the conferences who don't get more than one bid a chance to have two bids. If you expand, you would want that to happen."

In the current format, 18 percent of the teams get into the NCAA tournament and another 9 percent receive invites to the NIT. That's far below the number of teams that get postseason berths in football: 68 of 120 teams, or 56 percent. By comparison, 53 percent of NHL and NBA teams get into the playoffs, 37 percent in the NFL and 26 percent in baseball.

But to some, that low percentage is part of what makes the NCAA tournament special.

The NCAA tournament, in a way, is like The Masters in golf. Because it's such a small field, just getting there is an honor and adding to the field could cheapen the accomplishment. Expanding the tournament also could devalue interest in the regular season, reduce drama in postseason conference tournaments and possibly weaken the NCAA field.

"I think it makes it a really special tournament when only 64 get in," Washington State coach Ken Bone said. "I really like the way it is right now."

The heart of the issue is, as is always the case, money.

The NCAA has an 11-year, $6 billion contract with CBS, but can opt out after this season. It has already consulted with several networks and isn't likely to pull the trigger on expansion without a green light from TV. CBS has a strong interest in keeping the tournament and other networks are reportedly putting together bids.

"I'm sure what's best for TV is what's probably going to happen and we all have to understand that," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "We wouldn't have the following we do in college basketball if it weren't for TV. As coaches and players, we're just playing games, and we'll be fine with whatever it is."

Expanding the NCAA tournament would not be simple. The NCAA would have to figure what to do with the NIT, how the brackets would be set up, how to handle byes, if it means the athletes will be away from school longer, how the money will be divided up.

"I'd like to take a look at all that before I pass judgment on whether it's a good thing," Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw said. "The 64-team tournament has been special."

The counter argument? If it is so special, why not let more teams and players feel it, too?

"The magnitude of the NCAA tournament now is so big that it's just a great experience for a kid to have that opportunity to play," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "Most guys in college don't go on to play professionally, so if you can say you played in the NCAA tournament, that really kind of changes your career as a college basketball player."

For now, it's all speculation. The NCAA isn't sharing details of its plan — to the chagrin of some coaches — and doesn't seem close to making a decision.

"It's worth discussing, but I'm not sure I've seen anyone who's come up with what would be the best formula," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "Football can't figure it out and they deal with a lot less teams. Just adding a few, there's a pro and a con with everything, so I don't know what the suggestion or the formula is. But I do believe it will be expanded in the next decade and I do have feelings that somebody will figure it out."

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