More March Madness? Yes Please

Steve O Speak

Yesterday the NCAA announced that it was looking to expand the tournament, and while there are multiple options on the table, the most likely scenario would be expanding to a 96-team field. Now I realize just about every basketball pundit thinks this is the death of college basketball and the world is going to hell in a handbasket with this expansion, but I don’t believe that to be remotely true. And when you hear phrases like “it’s all about money” or “it will lead to a diluted tournament” they really need to be put into context before they should be digested.

Is the tournament all about money? Of course it is, but who gets this money and benefits from it? Well the short answer is the schools. Sure the NCAA themselves get a cut of the profits and host cities will sell more tickets, but the vast majority of the money will go back to the colleges, and since when is that a bad thing? That money will help fund not only the basketball program and facilities at these schools (and the facilities are used by multiple sports programs), but will also help pay for scholarships and fund other non-profit sports. And I’m not just talking about funding Men’s and Women’s Field Hockey.

Northern Iowa, this year’s tournament darling, had to close their baseball program (among others) last season due to costs and budget issues in the state. Baseball, America’s past time, was shutdown in America’s heartland.  And it’s not alone other baseball and even some football programs have been shutting down, given the state of the economy (and other issues). For some of these schools men’s basketball is their sole money maker, and if having more team’s in the tournament allows for a bigger windfall (not to mention the prestige of those extra teams who are now making the tournament) for these schools and consequently their athletes then what is wrong with that? Since when is taking money from whichever major network is broadcasting the games (actually their Fortune 500 company advertisers) and giving it to the education system in the country a bad thing? And if a couple head honchos at the NCAA and school athletic directors and coaches get a little more money in their pocket, so what? As long as the majority goes to the program, facilities and other sports programs on campus, I have no problem.

As for the other issue of ‘diluting’ or ‘watering-down’ the tournament. How can we really say that after the two extremes we’ve had these last two years. Last season top seeds pretty much won out in that tournament and upsets were few and far between. This year everyone expected either the veteran Kansas team or the NBA’s 31st team, the Kentucky Wildcats to win it all this year, yet all we have are upsets. Both tournaments have been incredible to watch, and goes to show that anything can truly happen in March. I really don’t think adding 31 more teams (remember in reality we are at 65 now, not the perfect 64 teams that everyone talks about), will make a big impact and change the way things are done.  And remember what we are really talking about here. These wouldn’t be 31 teams pulled out of the thin air, these would be 31 of the 32 NIT teams (boy it would suck for that 32nd NIT team who now gets nothing). Those are the next best teams in the nation and the ones who had their bubble burst on selection Sunday. Is it really a bad thing to give Mississippi State, who was 3 seconds away from knocking off Kentucky in the Big 12 Tournament and punching their ticket to the tournament, another shot?

For anyone who thinks that expanding the tournament will ‘dilute’ the field and favor the top teams, remember that the last time the field was dramatically expanded to 64 teams from 48 (technically 53 there were 5 play-in games the year before) in 1985, was also the year 8th seed Villanova knocked off top seed and defending champion Georgetown, to become the lowest seed ever to win the NCAA Tournament.

Now I realize there are plenty of logistical issues involved with expanding the tournament. Where those first games are played, how are the 32 byes awarded, is there any preference to regular season or tournament winners etc. But I like the idea of expanding the field and I do see the benefits for the schools and basketball across the country. I don’t think it will make March Madness any less exciting and instead bring to light the NIT schools that get largely ignored. There is some good basketball played there year in, year out and having them part of the tournament, means everyone who has a shot is now included. I think we should give the NCAA a break and remember that it has been expanded before and the world is still here.

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