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BTI’s Rants and Ramblings: Expanding the NCAA Tournament

Let’s be honest, the people who run sports (whether college or pro), don’t really care what the “fans” think.  Even in the so-called amateur sports, the bottom line is the bottom line.  Their main goal is to make as much money as possible.  If this wasn’t the case, we would have a college football playoff, a longer NFL season, a shorter NBA playoffs, and an expulsion of the WNBA. 

And now this money-hungry group of old people are showing their true colors with this talk about expansion of the NCAA Tournament, likely to 96-teams.  One website, SportsbyBrooks, says that its a done deal.  I would be willing to bet that if polled, somewhere in the range of 80-90 percent of college basketball fans think this is a bad idea.  In a rare form of unity, it seems that ALL sports writers are in agreement about what a terrible idea this is as well:

Gene Wojciechowski (ESPN): The tournament is perfect the way it is 
Stewart Mandel (CNNSI): Tournament expansion a serious option
Kalani Simpson (Foxsports): Bigger not always better

Now, before we get into why this is such a bad idea, lets first recognize the reasons that the fat cats at the NCAA and TV networks want this expansion and why it works for them:

a. Advertising money: For CBS, I would say the advertising space during the NCAA Tournament is one of their most expensive of year, unless they have the Super Bowl.  And right now, there are 63 spaces for advertising, whereas with expansion, there would now be 95 spaces for advertising.  More advertising spaces=more cash.

b. TV viewership: As much as us fans want to whine about this expansion, and how it will make the tournament less exciting, lets be honest about something: we are still gonna watch.  And we are gonna watch every second we can, because it still has drama and we still will join bracket polls and make bets on the game, and skip out of work to watch.  So, from a network directors perspective, viewership won’t go down, so why not expand. 

c. Job security:The college coaches are fairly split on this idea, but they will all admit that making the NCAA Tournament, especially in the BCS conferences, is how they keep their jobs.  Billy Gillispie was shown the door after one missed tournament in 2 years.  Mike Davis was fired at Indiana just a couple years after making the title game.  It’s fairly easy for John Calipari or Bill Self to defend keeping the tournament the way it is, their teams are basic locks to make it each year.  But, look who the coaches pushing for this expansion are: Jim Boeheim, whose teams has missed the tournament just barely twice this decade.  And Billy Donovan, who also has missed the tournament 2 times in a row, but WOULD NOT HAVE in a 96-team field.      

All of the reasons given above make complete sense from a financial and job security standpoint.  I have no doubt that a network like CBS or ESPN would make more money with a 96-team field over a 65-team field.  But, I wish just once in this current sports atmosphere, money could be pushed aside for the better good of the sport.  In our pro sports, especially with the boom of free agency, we have lost that option.  Players go where the money is, and its much harder to support one team when the players change so often.  And it looks more and more each day that college sports have gone down the money drain as well. 

But, college basketball has it so perfectly right now.  It is not incredibly difficult to make it to the tournament, like it is to make it to BCS in college football.  BUT, its not a cake walk either.  The team you follow has to EARN its right into the tournament with something of a successful season.  In a 96-team field, we are looking at the definite possibility that teams around .500 will make it.  Does a team that wins as much as it loses deserve a shot at the national title?  I think not.  

Another legitimate question to ask is: how exactly is this tournament setup?  Does the #1 seed play the #96 seed?  How many byes do the top teams get?  Will the mid-majors be allotted a certain number of bids?  How in the hell will we fit 96 teams on our brackets for the bracket poll at work?  You must read this great article from Bleacher Report, where the writer attempts to bracket the new 96-team field several different ways, and none of them turn out so great.

My hope is the fan and media outrage from this proposed expansion will push these network execs and NCAA reps to reconsider this change.  It’s unlikely, because money talks over a fans voice.  I worry that we will lose the cinderella teams, who will be buried in a first round game against a lower tier Pac-10 school, not given their chance at the big boys.  I worry the regular season will become pointless, because once you reach 15 wins, you’re sure to get in the tournament.  But most of all, I worry that what I consider the greatest 3 weeks of the sports year will be downgraded and minimized all for the sake of some added cash. 

Article written by Bryan the Intern