Today Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, whose wife is from the glorious city of Middlesboro, Kentucky, mentioned that the NCAA is considering expanding the tournament field to 80 in upcoming years to insure that no worthwhile teams are left out of the Big Dance. This news actually is not surprising as the cash cow that is the NCAA Tournament can only be greater with the addition of more teams, games and revenue streams for the member institutions. 80 teams gives the top teams a bye and in all actuality, makes it more likely that one of the littlest minnows can win a game in the big dance as the 80th ranked team would only have to play the 49th team, rather than the top ranked team.
But the question becomes whether it is actually needed. The issue of whether the tournament should be expanded is one that has been debated by college basketball fans since the forties when the fans of CCNY insisted that making them play any team in the championship game was a disgrace. For the vast majority of the NCAA’s history, only conference champions were allowed into the tournament, setting up great conference tournament games, the best of which was hte classic 1974 matchup between NC State and Virginia, which is often mentioned as the second best game ever behind the Christian Laettner travesty. However, soon after the field quickly expanded, reaching 64 in 1984. Is 64 enough? Well until this year, I would have said yes. I would have made the case that no team not in the tournament has a legitimate chance of winning, or even making the Final 4….so there is no need for more teams.
But then came George Mason….a team that likely should not have even been in the field (Hofstra had a better case), and yet made it to the Final 4. When combined with the fact that otherwise good programs and coaches were left out this season (Louisville, Maryland, Texas Tech, etc), there is at least an argument that the field should be expanded. I mean otherwise, how can Rick Pitino ever make it again? Whether the tournament expands or not, know this. If it does…..dont believe any of the hype that it is for competitiveness or the institutions and teams being added. It is for cash….not that there is anything wrong with that, but it is the rationale. In the same way that I never believe the Turkey Hunter when he tells me that he only dances with overweight chicks to “have fun”, I will never believe that the NCAA does anything with non-monetary motives.