In a report filed by USA Today, the NCAA has agreed to expand the 2011 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. Next season there will be 68 teams vying to be called National Champions. Also included in the deal was a new contract with CBS and Turner Sports for the next fourteen years of televised rights for the tournament, purportedly worth $11 billion to the NCAA.
Some, like the Jim Haney who is the executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, wanted the field to expand to 96 teams but he applauded the new contract. “To think college basketball would generate that much…is a testimony to these games.” This new financial package helps to fund the entire NCAA organization with its operating expenses.
Games will be seen on CBS, TNT, TBS, and truTV starting next year. The expansion to 68 teams still has to be approved by the NCAA Board of Directors on April 29th.
The NCAA still has to work out how the three extra teams will be worked in, according to ESPN. A play-in game was added in 2001 to add one extra team to the field of 64 that had been that way since 1985. Other plans such as expanding to 80 teams and even 96 were discussed at the Final Four.
I think a gradual expansion is a good thing. With so much money involved and 347 Division I schools (nearly 20 of which don’t play in a conference) expansion can only help schools financially. But I believe the tournament could have been expanded further. For this we need to take a look at the playoff as it was in 1985.
Twenty-five years ago the tournament expanded from 48 to 64 teams. There were 300 D-I teams in 1985 so the number of teams has expanded. We also need to look at professional sports. In the NBA and NHL, nearly half of their teams make the playoffs even if they might have a losing record. The NFL qualifies 12 of its 32 teams for the playoffs, which averages out to over a third of its teams.
While I don’t recommend having a 175-team field, I think the NCAA can stand to have 96 of their best teams on the floor in March. Having a lower percentage than even the NFL’s chances of making the playoffs doesn’t lessen anyone’s expectations on NCAA basketball or dilute the tournament whatsoever. With so many great players out there and more talent in the NCAA ranks than ever I think more expansion can happen in the coming years.
Adding another whole week to the tournament may impede upon spring sports such as baseball but basketball and football are the marquee sports played by NCAA schools. Plus having more young amateur players with a chance to finish their college careers in winning form is also something many student athletes would love to see.
My only hope is that this expansion of the men’s tournament also happens to the women’s side as well. I have a teenage daughter and a tween son. I would like for them to have equal opportunities if they chose to play basketball for their respective colleges.
USA Today, ESPN, and the NCAA’s website all contributed information for this story.