NCAA Tourney Math: 68 > 96, for Now
Thankfully, the NCAA decided less is more. For at least another year the NCAA men's basketball tournament bracket can still be fitted nicely on an 8½-by-11 sheet of paper. But the question is for how long?
On Thursday, the NCAA announced that its board of directors has recommended that the NCAA men's basketball tournament expand from 65 to 68 teams for next season. The rubber stamp officially will be applied next Thursday by the NCAA Board of Directors.
That roar you heard was from college basketball purists along with NIT officials, whose postseason tournament would have been disbanded by a behemoth 96-team NCAA tournament.
Also, in somewhat of an upset – not a No. 16 seed over a No. 1 seed, mind you – but the leader of the conference that probably would have benefited the most from a 96-team field was actually glad the NCAA didn't super-size its bracket.
"I applaud the NCAA for preserving the character, integrity and eloquence of the current men's basketball championship and not diluting its stature as one of America's greatest athletic events," Big East commissioner John Marinatto said from Scottsdale, Ariz., where he's attending the BCS meetings.
Marinatto's league, which had eight teams in this year's 65-team field, conceivably would have gotten as many as 13 of its 16 league teams in a 96-team field this season.
"Although it may sound counter intuitive for me to say this given our prominence in basketball, we were concerned about a radical expansion of the field and how that could damage this great event's stature and student-athlete academic welfare," Marinatto said.
The announcement of next year's expected 68-team field coincided with the NCAA's new $10.8 billion, 14-year deal with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting System.
The specific semantics of how the new 68-team field will be laid out is yet to be determined. The most likely scenario would be increasing the number of "play-in" games from one to four for next season. This would pit the lowest eight seeds against each other with the winners advancing to face each of the four region's No. 1 seeds.
That means three more at-large teams will likely be added to the mix.
While the news that the tournament was only expanding to 68 teams next season drew a welcome sigh of relief from hardcore college basketball fans, there still remains the very real – and scary – possibility it's only a matter of time before the NCAA grows to 96 teams.
During Thursday's teleconference, NCAA interim president Jim Isch (right) and CBS Sports President Sean McManus both didn't rule out a 96-team NCAA tournament in the future.
"Everything is still on the table [concerning a 96-team field] and it will be a membership decision," Isch said.
Officials also indicated that the new $10.8 billion, 14-year deal between the NCAA and CBS/Turner which gives the two networks all of the television, internet and wireless rights, was not dependent on the tournament expanding for next season.
However, if it does ...
"We have flexibility in our deal to handle expansion to 96 if it happens," McManus said.
Speculation of a 96-team field has been rampant for weeks. Last month, CBS reporter Lesley Visser went on a Tampa, Fla., radio station, saying that CBS officials had been told by the NCAA's Greg Shaheen that 96 teams would happen "most likely next year." Earlier this month at the Final Four in Indianapolis, Shaheen spent the majority of a press conference unsuccessfully answering a cross examination by John Feinstein about the impact a 96-team tournament would have on missed class time for the student-athletes.
Not to mention how a 96-team tournament would basically render the regular season – how can I say this? – meaningless.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, perhaps one of the most vocal proponents of expanding the tournament to 96 teams, said Thursday the increase to 68 teams was "better than nothing."
"As a coach I'd like to see more people get in but 68 is a good step and the easiest way, to have the least amount of turmoil," Boeheim told The Associated Press. "There's really no way to do a little bit bigger expansion. You can't expand by eight, 10. There's no way to figure that out. This is the easiest way and hopefully down the road there will be a bigger expansion."
Georgia coach Mark Fox tweeted that the announcement was "big news today with the new TV deal and the tournament expanding – great for our game."
The National Association of Basketball Coaches has long advocated expansion because while the number of Division I teams has expanded greatly in the past couple of decades, the tournament has grown by only one team.
In 1985, the NCAA tournament expanded from 48 to 64 teams. A 65th team was added in 2001 when the number of automatic bids increased from 30 to 31.
If the 68-team field would have been implemented for the 2010 tournament, CollegeRPI.com's Jerry Palm projected that Mississippi State, Rhode Island and Seton Hall would have made the NCAA tournament instead of the NIT.
Also the four "play-in" games in 2010 would have involved Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Winthrop, East Tennessee State, Vermont, North Texas, Morgan State and Robert Morris.
None of those eight schools are exactly household names, but having four opening games to kick off a 68-team tournament sure beats the alternative, a 96-team field.
The question, though, is for how much longer?
Contact FanHouse senior writer Brett McMurphy at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BrettmcmurphY