March Madness to Marshmallow Madness
Unbelievable. Then again, this could be good.
This could make the naive understand two truisms that aren't mutually exclusive in the sports world: (1) The combination of greed, stupidity and short-sightedness often rules professional and collegiate athletics, and (2) a playoff system for the big boys of college football would become an ever-growing disaster.
Let's get that football thing out of the way. According to many, those who run the NCAA should lose their minds by placing another bowl after the current set of games involved with the Bowl Championship Series. That game would decide the national champion after what would become a little playoff system.
Just one more game, they say. What's wrong with one more?
Well, President Obama wants eight teams in a playoff system. Others suggest 16 or even 32. Former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach wants 64.
Why not all 120 FBS teams?
Why not the whole solar system?
Better yet, why not leave it alone? That won't happen. Enough is never enough in these situations, and it's not because of those overblown reasons you always hear -- ranging from "there are so many deserving teams these days due to parity" to "an expanded playoff (or a playoff system in general) is the best way to choose the definitive champion."
It's because of that greed, stupidity and short-sightedness, period. Which brings us back to this talk about expansion for the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
You just know those among conference officials, athletics directors and television executives who want expansion have visions of dollar signs dancing in their heads. Then there are the coaches -- the biggest of the expansion supporters, because the more playoff games for them, the more they'll have added bonuses, higher salaries and better job security. And they aren't ashamed to admit it.
"No question when coaches [talk] about this, it is in response to the reality of the environment in which they work," said Jim Haney, the executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. "They are hired to coach the basketball program, and there's an expectation, and generally, that expectation is to make the NCAA tournament. And so, from purely an 'I like what I do. I like working at this institution. I want to keep my job' standpoint, there's this whole notion of making the NCAA tournament as the benchmark by which you're judged and evaluated by your bosses. So that's a big deal."
Here's a bigger deal: The death of March Madness if such talk by coaches and others becomes reality.
Once, the 71-year-old NCAA tournament had eight teams, then 32, then 48, and that growth was fine during its early days as only a niche event. Then came several play-in games during the early 1980s to push the field to 52 teams and then to 53 teams before the NCAA developed the definitive number of 64 in 1985. Since a play-in game was added in 2001, it's been at 65 teams.
Now many want more teams in the tournament.
How many more? Four, eight, 12, 16 more. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, top, wouldn't mind 96 overall. Said Haney, "Men's basketball coaches look around at other sports, and most often, they want to look at football as another significant revenue producer. Over 50 percent of those football teams go to play in bowl games. Then when you look at basketball, where you've got 65 of roughly 350 [in the tournament], and that's obviously a smaller percentage."
Yeah, and your point is ...
My point is that since the NCAA men's basketball tournament is significantly more exclusive than its counterparts, it provides better competition.
As much as fans enjoy upsets during March Madness, they only do to a point -- like through the Sweet 16, with maybe a Cinderella here and there. They certainly don't wish to see a flood of Fairleigh Dickinsons and Coppin States reaching the Final Four over the North Carolinas and UCLAs.
Anyway, with an expanded tournament, it would involve two, three or four more teams from the power conferences and hardly any teams from the others.
Whatever the case, those extra teams shouldn't be in the tournament. The CBS people didn't agree to pay the NCAA $6 billion over 11 years for an inferior product, but get this: Even though that contract with the network has three more years to go, the NCAA has the ability to opt out of the deal by July 31 in search of something richer.
The NCAA is hinting of doing just that. SportsBusiness Journal said NCAA officials already have chatted with the usual suspects in the shadows to gauge their interest of an expanded tournament. More games would give somebody outside of CBS -- you know, like a cable outfit with much time to fill and multiple channels (ESPN, for instance) -- added incentive to pile more billions onto the NCAA's billions.
So will there be expansion? Haney laughed, saying, "Uh, you know. I could make a guess, but I'm not going to do that."
I'll make a guess: March Madness will begin near February and end closer to May someday. Not that you or anybody else will be watching it all.