More games, more excitement
By JOHN MARSHALL
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — 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 it's 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.