Wednesday, March 31, 2010

NCAA Tournament Expansion

USA Today has reported that Jim Delany -- the Big Ten Commissioner and the former chairman of the NCAA Men's Basketball Committee -- considers an expansion in the NCAA field as "probable."

This concept of expansion has become an omnipresent idea that has been thrown around the NCAA Tournament for the week before and the week after the Final Four in each of the last few seasons.

It is obvious that the field will not shrink and in all likelihood it will have to expand by some extent to please the higher number of competent teams as parity has strengthened. The current field of 65 teams gives a fair snap shot of Post-season worthy teams, but as the old proverb goes: If your already having a big party, then would it really hurt to invite just a couple more friends? (Yeah, I don't really think that proverbs exists... but it should).

An increase of the field to 68 or 72 would be the most fair and efficient change. Essentially there would be either four (for a field of 68) or eight (for a field of 72) play-in-games and then the tournament could carry out as it currently does. This year there was about seven teams on the bubble of which two made it into the Tournament (UTEP and Utah St. were in while Illinois, Virginia Tech, Mississippi St., Arizona St., and Rhode Island were excluded). If the Tournament expanded to 68 then three of those teams that were number one seeds in the NIT would be in. That would leave two teams quite upset and the bubble would be as large as it previously was because the only teams with nearly comparable resumes to RI would be the other NIT Two seeds -- meaning three more teams in the Tournament and three teams replacing the "IN" teams on the bubble.

Discerning teams would become a burdensome task if the field would be increased to 96 or 128 teams. College Basketball is still has a rigid pyramidal hierarchy despite the increasing parity. At the top are the few perennial college teams. Below them are the era based major-conference teams (teams revolving around a coach, type of play, or group of players) and prominent mid-major teams. Below them are good and middle- of-the-road major conference teams as well as the decent mid-major teams (usually because of a strong and reliable recruiting base). Below them are the struggling (usually because of sanctions) major conference teams, the middle-of-the-road mid-major teams, and the consistent minor-conference teams that usually have a peculiar style of play. At the bottom are the hoopla minor-conference and below-average mid-majors.

If the NCAA let in more teams, then the bubble would become gigantic because of the pyramidal based hierarchy of college basketball. Simply put, there are more teams like one another at the bottom. The number of teams that are capable of being a legitimate "65th team" is less than the number of teams that would be this potential "96th team" or "128th team." The difference among the less adequate teams is far subtler than the differences among the more competent ones. The entire resumes of teams at the bottom of college basketball differ in terms of only a few RPI spots or one more win against an RPI 100 to 200 team. Differentiating among teams within such as slim margin will undoubtedly lead to dissatisfaction and unrest.

As of now the NCAA Tournament includes all of the top two segments and taps into the third for bubble teams and the fourth for automatic bids. The NIT uses the remaining teams in the third segment and it also utilizes the fourth segment for automatic bids. Finally the CBI and CIT grab the remaining teams in the fourth segment from non-major conferences. An increase to such a substantially high number of teams in the NCAA field would flat out destroy the NIT and diminish most what the CBI and CIT would have to offer; it would force the NIT to go into the fourth segment and the CBI and CIT to pick from teams in the fifth segment that are not post-season worthy.

Expanding the field by a significant margin is imprudent. It would cause more distress for the NCAA Selection Committee, more snubbed bubble teams, and an inadequate field of teams for the other post-season tournament. By attempting to further monopolize on college basketball, it would only hurt the NCAA Post-Season. If I didn't know better I would suspect that CollegeBoard was probably behind this too.

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