NCAA got it right on tourney expansion

Shockingly, common sense won out over the almighty dollar.

The NCAA announced a new 14-year deal with CBS and Turner on Thursday afternoon, but the network of choice wasn't what your average college hoops fan cared about.

It was all about expansion.

The NCAA Tournament will grow beginning next season, as long as the Board of Directors approves the recommendation laid forth by the NCAA Division 1 Men's Basketball Committee next Thursday.

But the Big Dance will only get larger by a trio of teams.

"It's a win-win for everyone," CBS president Sean McManus said on Thursday.

He's right. It's a major victory for nearly everyone involved.

While it doesn't mean that the field will remain at 68 through the entirety of the contract -- which runs through 2024 and is worth a shade under $11 billion -- it certainly sounds as though it will stick at 68 for a while, anyway.

"There's no expectation that further conversation takes place related to the field anytime in the near future," NCAA senior vice president Greg Shaheen said.

Also, no guarantee.

It was widely seen as a done deal that the NCAA was set to expand to 96 teams beginning in 2011 -- although NCAA interim president Jim Isch maintained that there "was no decision ever to go to 96." There was also plenty of criticism surrounding the move, along with accusations that the sole reason to expand would ultimately be to put more money in the NCAA's pocket.

But the NCAA finally got one right.

"Sixty-eight is fine," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "I still think the movement will be to go to 96 in the future, but this is a positive for college basketball and for the tournament."

"Why mess with something that is very good the way it is?" Army coach Zach Spiker added. "It's perfect the way it is. Why do we have to reinvent the wheel?"

However, many coaches will continue to complain that not enough players will be able to garner the NCAA tourney experience. But they may be more upset because it affects their job security.

"It's a missed opportunity to include more student-athletes in the tournament," Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said.

It was also an opportunity to water down the tourney by adding another 30 or so teams that just aren't worthy of inclusion. That's an opportunity worth missing, especially after this past season, when the bubble teams had little-to-no justification for getting into the Big Dance.

Just imagine if the field were at 96 this past season. A mediocre North Carolina team would have been a virtual lock and the woeful Pac-10 would have had at least half of its representatives included in the field.

There's no need for a full-blown expansion. Other than maybe returning to the 64-team format, this was the ideal solution.

Now all the games will be shown to the fans on CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV. Fans are now able to watch every game on television and not have to be at the mercy of either the Internet or CBS for late-game look-ins. CBS will maintain the Final Four and national championship game until 2015 and then the network and Turner will alternate for the remainder of the deal.

There were questions asked to the networks and NCAA about how the revenue is split. No one cares. The bottom line here is that the integrity of the NCAA tournament hasn't been compromised, fans will get an opportunity to see all the games and the regular season will still have some meaning.

The new format hasn't been determined but will be discussed at a couple of future meetings and decided sometime this summer. There could be four play-in games instead of just one. Maybe it would be eight bubble teams battling it out for a shot at a 12 seed.

Whatever they opt to implement, it can't be any worse than having to see a No. 24 seed in the Big Dance.