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NCAA Has No Plans to Expand Past Current 68-Team Tournament Field

Many people (us included) were freaking out when reports throughout last year’s college basketball season suggested the NCAA tournament would expand to a 96-team field. It got to the point where the plans for expansion were said to be a done deal. What was really going on is that reports were leaked in order for the NCAA to gauge public opinion. They probably figured most fans would be delighted to have more games to watch and (shhh) bet on during March Madness. Turns out the public outcry against the move was pretty strong, so the plans were altered.

Ultimately the NCAA decided to expand to a 68-team field that includes extra play-in games. Additionally, CBS and Turner came together on a television deal that should keep the NCAA and the participating schools rolling in the cash they were seeking. So with the new TV deal in hand, that means we can forget about plans for expansion, right? Sure seems like that is the case.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, the new chairman of the men’s basketball committee, said Wednesday “There are no plans for further expansion. It isn’t even on our radar screen.” You know the best part of the story? Public pressure from the fans is what kept the tournament field from expanding. See what kind of power we have when we bind together for a cause? Now if we could only do something about replay in baseball …

Would 96 Teams Work? Only One Way to Find Out

Almost every sports fan I know gets excited when they flip their calender from Feburary to March and realizes that March Madness is just a few weeks away. Even though this year’s tournament isn’t even over yet, the NCAA has already started talking about the future. Nothing is set in stone, but the NCAA is looking to expand the tournament from its current 65 team field to one that included 96 teams.

I’m not quite sure what to think about this. In one way, I think that 65 teams is quite enough for this tournament. I think that it allows for some of the best basketball games to be played because you’ve got some of the best teams in the nation playing some teams who aren’t quite as good but at least put up a fight. So what would happen if the other teams were included? Would it even be fair to let some of these teams into the tournament when they might not have a very good shot? I just don’t know.

On the other hand, the expansion would be good. In the proposed format, the NCAA tournament would absorb the 32-team NIT, and that could result in some good competition for NCAA teams. Plus, inviting more teams to the Big Dance would give several more student athletes a chance for fame and the opportunity to live a dream.

I can’t seem to make up my mind about whether this would be a good thing or bad thing for the NCAA but I guess their is only one way to find out — try it. As long as the excitement of the March Madness continues, I guess it couldn’t hurt.

Sources:
NCAA: 96-team field is the best fit [ESPN]

UCLA Fans Can’t Whine About Villanova’s Home Court Advantage in Philly

One aspect of this year’s tournament that immediately jumps out at you is how few upsets there were. For the first time ever, all top three seeds in each region advanced to the Sweet 16. As it has been under the pod system, many of the top teams are rewarded by being placed in a region that will allow them to play close to home in the early rounds. Both Duke and North Carolina got to play in Greensboro which is in their home state. Even Washington and Gonzaga got to play in Portland which is much closer to Seattle and Spokane than say Bowling Green and West Lafayette. And as UCLA fans well know, Villanova got to play in its home city of Philadelphia, which no doubt proved to be an advantage. I somewhat got caught up in this when I talked about it on the radio but I also must remind myself to stay balanced.

Last year UCLA got to play its first two games of the tournament in Anaheim, only 50 miles south of the campus and nearby a good portion of their fanbase. Without that advantage, the outcome of the two-point win over Texas A&M could have been different (Darren Collison even said so after the game). Two years ago the Bruins got to play their first two games in Sacramento and their next two games in San Jose for the regionals, all within the home state (quite an advantage for the two seed over the one seed — Kansas). In 2006, another Final Four season for the Bruins, UCLA got to play its first two games in San Diego (four hours closer to campus than Sacramento), and the two regional games in Oakland. Again, they never left the state en route to the Final Four.

Complain all you want about the pod system and the way it gives top seeded teams the advantage of playing close to home, or the way it makes teams in the “West Region” (like UConn) play its first and second round games in Philadelphia (go figure). I just need to remind myself and other Bruins fans that we can’t bitch about the bad luck in playing in Villanova’s back yard when we had the same advantage three years in a row. And maybe it’s not such a bad thing considering it rewards consistent winning during the regular season, something I always preach and support. But if you want more upsets, take away the home court advantage gained with the pod system.

Conference Tournament Results Weighed Too Heavily on Tourney Seedings

I’m not a fan of conference tournaments for several reasons. For starters, it cheapens the regular season. Think about the smaller conferences that don’t get at-large bids — Weber State for instance goes 15-1 in the Big Sky but loses in the conference tourney and goes home. Davidson was 18-2 in Southern Conference play, but Chattanooga gets hot in the tourney and steals the automatic bid and Davidson is NIT bound. Additionally, the made-for-TV tourneys allow teams like DePaul (that was 0-18 in Big East play) a chance to earn an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. Imagine 1-17 Indiana playing for the national championship because they stole the Big 10 tourney. It would be totally bunk. Furthermore, they play games in four straight days, something that isn’t done all season, and isn’t even done in the actual NCAA Tournament. And worst of all, conference tourney results had to strong a bearing on the seedings.

Let me start off with the SEC, which only got three teams into the tourney because experts said they had a “down year.” LSU for example dominated conference play going 13-3. They were a top 25 team considering they had only lost 6 games all year. Because they lost in the second round of the SEC tourney they go from a team ranked 20th (which translates to a 5 seed) to an 8 seed? Tennessee despite non-conference wins over Marquette and Georgetown drops to a 9 seed because of a finals loss to Mississippi State? What would they have been, a 6, had they won the conference tourney? Then you get Duke and Wake Forest, both with 11-5 records in the ACC, behind only North Carolina. The teams split in conference play, and Wake actually beat UNC, unlike Duke. Yet the Blue Devils win the ACC tourney while Wake drops only one effing game to Maryland, and now Duke’s a 2 and Wake’s a 4.

Then in my home conference, the Pac-10, you see the same thing. UCLA loses to USC in the conference tournament, and they go from being ranked 15th which translates to a 4 seed, to getting a six seed. Someone tell me why one game in a conference tournament should carry so much more weight than the 18 games most of these teams play in their conference regular season. It doesn’t make any sense except for the purpose of generating TV excitement.

The results of these conference tourneys are so erratic, that they become almost impossible to pick. You never know who’s showing up and actually trying to win the thing. That’s also why we must give props to The Driver who won the LBS conference tourney picks contest by correctly selecting two of the six conference tourney winners, Purdue and Louisville. Hopefully he’ll enjoy the No Fear swag that comes as the prize.