NCAA expansion another power play
By Ferd Lewis
Maybe it is the still-hovering euphoria from seeing Butler University reach the championship game of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament and be a shot away from winning it all.
Perhaps it is the sheer numbers of expansion being kicked around by the NCAA, the possibility of a 96-team field.
But, somehow, the idea has gotten around that if the NCAA opens up its bracket it is going to be a gravy train for the so-called mid-major schools that find themselves increasingly frustrated at cracking the current 65-team field.
Nice fantasy, but it is an airball.
The power conferences that make up what are known in football as the Bowl Championship Series leagues aren't going to loosen their grip or open their hearts in basketball, either. Their appetite for TV money the tournament produces will be just as ravenous as it is now if not more so. And money — more than the billions now in play — is what it is all about.
Think the Western Athletic Conference, for example, will suddenly go four or five teams deep in an expanded NCAA Tournament instead of two? Guess again.
Most of those new 32 slots — if expansion does proceed to 96 — will be going to the big boys. Instead of eight Big East teams, you'll have 12 or 13. Rather than six Atlantic Coast Conference representatives, figure more like 9 or 10.
That won't leave many more openings for the WAC or its mid-major brethren.
Which is precisely the point. The power conferences that control the BCS are loathe to allow more than token outside representation in their games because that's money that leaves their table.
In men's basketball, the NCAA pays out tournament TV money based upon accumulated units (current worth approximately $206,000) annually over a revolving six-year cycle calculated by the number of games a team plays. There is one unit for making the tournament and an additional unit for each subsequent game played.
The checks go to the conferences so the more games played by a conference's members, the more the league rakes in and its membership shares in, hence each conference's fierce interest in placing as many of its members as possible.
As the money goes round and round it allows the richer conferences to fatten up the winning side of their ledgers at other's expense. They are able to "buy" non-conference games against less financially sound opponents, shelling out attractive guarantees to get teams to play them on their home courts.
A 96-team field may well be where the NCAA Tournament is headed as soon as next year. But it won't be the expansive dream that mid-major fans are wishing upon.