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NCAA tournament expansion would be a good thing

Mike Wise is writing a column for Monday's paper about why NCAA tournament expansion is a bad thing. And he'd like your help. He's attempting to come up with 65 reasons why expansion would be bad. He asked me to solicit some suggestions. Please leave them in the comments below.

But as long as he brought it up, here's why he -- and everyone else -- is wrong, and why NCAA tournament expansion would not be a bad thing at all. I'm sort of indifferent about the whole matter, but I find most of the arguments against to be lame, contradictory, predictable and unconvincing.

Expansion would ruin a perfect event!!!!!

"College basketball is bigger than ever, played better than ever, richer than ever -- and also sicker than ever," The Post's Ken Denlinger wrote when the tournament expanded to its current perfect number back in 1985. "Never have more games been played for less purpose. Because 64 teams are allowed into the NCAA tournament, regular seasons are as watered as drinks in a cheap bar; conference tournaments are meaningful only to distressed teams hoping for a miracle."

"Are you sure a 64-team tournament isn't a little too large? Like about 32 teams too large?" The L.A. Times's Mark Heisler asked then. "Well, CBS likes it, so it must be OK." ("The NCAA tournament has been opened to 64 teams, which makes the regular season correspondingly irrelevant," Heisler wrote earlier that year.)

"These days, with 64 teams in the field, if you aren't an NCAA tournament team, you have to be pretty bad," snarked The Post's John Feinstein, who, 25 years later, is now defending a 64-team field as "the perfect number."

"At its 78th convention, the NCAA expanded its come-anybody tournament to 64 teams, effective in 1985," the San Diego Union-Tribune Ed Zieralski griped the year before. "Now semi-tough-luck teams with 12-16 records against semi-mean competition have a semi-shot."

"To go beyond the present system would be to accommodate those teams that don't have a chance to win," said Dave Gavitt, an opponent of expansion.

The arguments were the same. Identical And 64 teams turned out to be as fantabulous as a cheap bar, an unprecedented boon for college hoops. Who's to say more wouldn't be better again?

The regular season would be meaningless!!!!! Every team would make it!!!!! Mediocrity would rule!!!!!

Division I baseball puts 21 percent of its teams into the postseason. Division I soccer puts 24 percent of its teams into the postseason. Major League Baseball puts 27 percent of its teams into the postseason. The NFL -- the most ridiculously successful sporting outfit in America -- puts 38 percent of its teams into the postseason. The NHL and NBA put more than half their teams into the postseason.

Division I men's NCAA basketball is more selective than all of those organizations. Only 19 percent of teams move on to the tournament. As a nation, we love the postseason, and at some point, with more and more teams joining Division I, the percentage will be too low.

Even with expansion to 96 teams, only 28 percent of Division I schools would make the tournament. It would be just as selective as Major League Baseball, slightly less selective than Division I soccer, and far more so than the NFL.

The heavyweights would get first-round byes!!!!! No fair!!!!!

Now hold on, that's just a ridiculous argument. You can't simultaneously say the regular-season would be rendered meaningless, and then argue that the regular-season's best teams would be unfairly rewarded. In fact, first-round byes for the top 32 teams would be a great prize for regular-season success, and an incentive to keep playing hard even after a berth was essentially clinched.

The first round would be a mishmash of awful teams!!!!! No one would care!!!!!

When I'm watching, say, 8th-seeded Oklahoma State eek out a two-point win over 9th-seeded Tennessee, as happened last year, I don't give a hoot that both teams had double-digit losses in the regular season, or that neither came close to winning its conference. I watch it because it's fun, I want to see how my bracket does, it's an even pairing, and I like watching championship sports.

Same with 9th-seeded Siena sliding by 8th-seeded Ohio State, one of the most memorable first-rounders a year ago. In fact, the first-round games pitting good mid-majors against mediocre powers are often the best, the fairest, and the hardest to predict.

The four 8-9 games last season were decided by an average of about five points. The four 1-16 games were decided by an average of about 32. We need more of the former, and fewer of the latter. Let Winthrop take its first shot against an average Big East team instead of a great one; it'll be fascinating, and it'll be fun.

And for the record, I'm a zillion times more likely to watch a mediocre 8-9 fist-round game than I am the NIT championship game, featuring the 66th- and 67- best teams in the country, because for the average sports fan, the NIT might as well be a Spring Training split-squad scrimmage. But throw those same two teams into a first-round NCAA game, and I'm there.

The 73rd team wouldn't have a legitimate shot to win it all, so why bother!!!!!

Gack, really? Fourteen of the last 20 champions have been one seeds. The other champions in that span have been either a two seed (three times), a three seed (two times) or a four seed (once). The vast majority of teams that make this perfect tournament right now have no shot to win it all. Heck, an eighth of the field has virtually no shot to win a single game; 15 and 16 seeds have a combined record of something like 4-196, if I'm not mistaken. This at least gives those teams a real chance to get a win.

And yet, as has often been noted, George Mason was one of the final at-large teams to make the 2006 field. The Patriots were completely outclassed by Florida in the Final Four, which didn't mean their four previous wins weren't worth watching, weren't special and unforgettable. And if that Mason team could win four tournament games after losing in the regular season to, among others, a 15-15 Mississippi State team that finished 5-11 in the SEC, isn't it possible to imagine that some of these supposedly godawful teams in a 96-team field might create a bit of magic of their own?

The NCAA tournament as pop-culture phenomenon will die!!!!!

There are three things, in my mind, that have made the current tournament a pop-culture success.

1) Fantastic endings, dramatic upsets, and general basketball excellence.

2) Bracket pools. (This is the only reason my parents watch, for example.)

3) The first round, with the absurd number of games, the all-day marathons that have people skipping work and gathered around televisions and hitting refresh on their browsers every 10 seconds.

Two extra days of early-round games would do nothing to inhibit the first item, would merely make score-keeping a bit more complicated for the second item, and would dramatically improve the third item. Two more days of weekday games that you're invested in, more invested in than the pre-double-bye-extra-play-in-first-round of the Big East tournament. Two more days of basketball that the whole country would pay watch together. Two more days of awesome.

And seriously, I can't be the only one who feels a tiny bit empty after the first weekend is over.
Sure, the better games happen later in the tournament, but the first weekend is the magical one; four games at once, weekday afternoons filled with joy, a cavalcade of action. How is extending that for two more days possibly a bad thing?

Anyhow, please help Wise come up with more reasons why this is a terrible idea. Your country is depending on you.

By Dan Steinberg  |  March 12, 2010; 9:38 AM ET
Categories:  College Basketball  
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steiny arguing for it = great reason not to

Posted by: slim4 | March 12, 2010 10:06 AM | Report abuse

expanding the ncaa field would have a major impact on some of the conference tourneys, making many of them less exciting.

it's fun to hear the sunday evening / monday morning arguments about how this team or that team was done wrong by the selection committee. I think those arguments would decrease significantly if you expand the field.

your percentage analysis on the number of teams that gets in is absolutely ridiculous. especially comparing to professional sports, where all the teams are relatively close in overall talent. in college basketball, the spread in talent between the best team and the 347th best team is far more significant than anything you will see in professional sports.

you also don't even address the fact that most sports fans agree that the NBA and NHL let far too many teams into the playoffs.

Posted by: natsfan76 | March 12, 2010 10:21 AM | Report abuse

as long as Phil's Mom goes on TK's radio show to do a bracket I don't care how many teams are in the tourney.

Posted by: olsonchr | March 12, 2010 10:21 AM | Report abuse

One thing I haven't seen talked about: There would be an extra week of the tournament added. How would that happen? Would the season go one week less, resulting in a loss of regular season games and revenue? Would the season start one week earlier, running even more into college football? Would it run one week later, running even more into Major League Baseball?

Posted by: Hokienautic | March 12, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Steinberg's absolutely right. The first weekend of March madness basketball is the greatest sporting event year round. Its 10am to midnight of the most compelling life or death basketball that you will watch all year.

You can also think about it this way. All of you who don't like it can close your eyes for the first two days, and when you open them, there will be the perfect number of (arguably more deserving) teams and you can live your lives again.

Also, the biggest detractors I've heard from are the ones who analyze bubble teams, and it would just make their job more difficult. But I don't care.

Posted by: AndrewR1 | March 12, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

the additional time would have to come on the front end...assuming they added 32 teams, they would probably just start the tourney tuesday instead of thursday. it creates all sorts of logistical issues (getting a team from place A on sunday when they find out to place B by tuesday morning).

They wouldn't add time on the back end unless they could convince the masters to push back a week (yeah...good luck with that!!!).

Posted by: natsfan76 | March 12, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse


Another great use of actual numbers and facts in an effort to debunk sports cliches. I really dig it when you articles like this, much more interesting than radio interview transcriptions.

Posted by: VTDuffman | March 12, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

If it ain't broke- don't fix it...

But seriously here are some reasons for Mike:

-The 64/65 team bracket fits very nicely on one page and is easy to understand and look at, meaning people in offices who don't know a lick about sports can get involved and understand what is going on. Too many teams equals too much clutter is a turn off for people who normally don't care.

- The "first round" of this new 96 team tournament is actually being played right now in the form of conference tournaments. I doubt Cincy would have put in the kind of effort they displayed in their three Big East tournament games if they were already in the NCAA tournament.

- Why feed the fat cats who run the NCAA with more money? They already messed up college football, maybe they should fix that instead of trying to fix something that isn't broken.

- The athletes would miss even more class, further adding to the reputation that "scholar" is very absent from the "scholar-athlete" phrase that the NCAA fat cats love to pretend like they embolden.

- Considering the number of conferences would stay the same and thus the automatic bids, most of the 31 added teams would come from the big conferences where most of the bubble teams sit. I don't see how you are adding to the mid-major vs. power conference match ups that everyone craves for when basically almost all of your added teams will come from the big conferences. I can already see Maryland- Georgia Tech in the ACC Tournament.

- Again, if it is not broken, then don't try to fix it. Deal with college football first.

Posted by: rademaar | March 12, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

This is Wise's column? 65 reasons why expansion is bad?

What a hack.

Posted by: Tank2 | March 12, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

The NCAA doesn't need more money. The tourney's already a billion-dollar cash cow, which for all intents and purposes pays for not just all the other sports that the NCAA oversees, but also -- and more importantly -- those silly "...the majority of whom go pro in something other than sports" commercials.

Posted by: Juan-John1 | March 12, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

In no football playoff argument fashion, I bring up the argument that these kids would just be missing way too many classes to have an extra slate of games and travel. I mean, they are STUDENT-athletes, right?

Posted by: amorris525 | March 12, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

It already takes hours and hours of unproductive work time to fill out our brackets. If the NCAA adds or doubles the number of teams, you can kiss the nation's GDP for the first quarter of the year goodbye. Down goes the economy, we lose our credit rating, the dollar implodes, stock market crashes, China invades, and we all go back to living in caves and trees.

So, preventing expansion is basically a matter of saving human existence as we know it.

Posted by: Section104 | March 12, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Thank you Steinz for again articulating why expanding the field is not going to ruin the tournament in any way.

As for Wise's column...How about Reason Number 1 why people don't want to change it:

People fear change. It's in our nature.

Posted by: Barno1 | March 12, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

You know what I like about this post? So many things. The sense of history: the fact that all of the current arguments against expanding the NCAA basketball tourney were made back in 1984-5. And the fact that none of the dire predictions made back then came to pass for NCAA basketball. And the fact that John Feinstein's hypocrisy on this point is so very, very clear.

I didn't care before. Now I want the field expanded.

Playoffs?!? PLAYOFFS?!?

Posted by: hithere1 | March 12, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse

OMG, I just agree with Barno. My insides are churning, vision blurring. Ack!

Posted by: hithere1 | March 12, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

I think there's one flaw in the % argument vis a vis professional sports: it's apples and oranges. All the conferences that always get only one bid tilt the scales decidedly in favor of a low percentage of teams getting in. I think the better comparison is the percentage of teams that get in from the "BCS" conferences in comparison with the percentage of teams that make the playoffs in professional sports. This year, the ACC will likely have 50% of its teams in the Dance. Increase the number of teams gaining entry to the tournament by nearly 50% (65 teams to 96 teams) and you'll probably have years when some BCS conferences get 75% of their teams in. That is ridiculous. I would favor a cap on the number of teams from any one conference if there is expansion.

Posted by: gkronenberg | March 12, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

If we were going to let more little guys in then I would say do the expansion. However, this is an excuse to let the entire ACC in the tournament even if they have losing records in conference. I say expansion should only be to 68, and turn the play-in games into games for bubble teams and not for teams from low major conferences.

Posted by: Randy_Hawkins | March 12, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

I happen to think this is a bad idea, since every team (except in the Ivy League) has a chance to qualify for the NCAAs by winning their conference tournament already.'s one weird reason for the expanded tournament: It would eliminate some of the "Bracketology" obsession. In the last two years, the Post and most other major sports outlets start putting together brackets in January and update them every week (I think ESPN even puts together a bracket in October). It's gotten insane--no one even lets the season play out before decreeing in early January that a team is in danger of missing the tournament. Like this year, when many were saying Maryland was already "on the bubble" in January after they played two ACC games. I don't even like Maryland, but I thought at the time, "That's ridiculous. What if they win, say, all of their games between now and the end of the season? They've barely begun their conference season." And in fact, they almost did that, rendering the bracket prediction in January just dumb and premature. So with 96 teams, pretty much every major conference team with an overall record above .500 would make it--and we wouldn't have to listen to whether a team in on the bubble on New Year's Day.

Posted by: TheFingerman | March 12, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

I agree with everything you've written here Steinz. More basketball please!

Posted by: Hobes | March 12, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

I have a simple solution.

There is already ONE play-in game {two days prior (on a Tuesday) to the start of the tournament.} Why not add 3 more play-in games, or 7 (3+4) more, etc.

Then, the field would be 68 teams (or 72, or 76, etc.) rather than the 65 teams we have now.

So, every year there could be a different number of teams (up to a max of 96 teams) that would make the tournament, with the criterion being you have to have a winning record or be the winner of your conference tournament to be considered.

Posted by: WHOletTheDAWGZout | March 12, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

If they're going to expand, I think it should be to 72 teams, but it should be the final 16 AT-LARGE teams that participate in the play-in games, effectively fighting each other for the ~9-12 seeds in each region. The automatic bids should be protected, it's a really big deal for those schools to get to go up against the #1's and that should be retained.

Posted by: jim_arrows | March 12, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

(Arguments railing against the negative effects this would have on the conference tournaments are stupid, since conference tournaments are stupid)

Way too many good schools get left out of the field of 64, and there's no way we're going to watch them in the NIT. They should cancel that thing. When Maryland swept Duke, a top team in the country a few years back, they still got sent to the NIT (largely because they got stunned in the meaningless ACC tournament). Dumb.

This year, NC State is inconsistent and ugly but could legitimately play with any team in their conference. They've shown that throughout the season, beating Duke, nearly taking down MD... That is the quietly deadly team you want to see get a some March Miracles. It'll be the fans' loss if it doesn't happen.

At least 80% of non-power conference teams are crap, and there's no way they should make up as large a portion of the tournament that they do.

The team that earns that 16-seed would have a lot more swagger if they were already in the Big Dance and coming right off of a win. Put that one in your article, Mike Wise.

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Posted by: justmemez | March 12, 2010 9:25 PM | Report abuse

As long as the goal and function is to allow the 3rd place mid major team over a 9th place ACC/Big East/Big 10/etc. team, I like expansion.

* Top 32 teams get byes, regardless of their slotting in the main field of 64.
--- Byes should go to ALL Regular season champions as a reward for being the best during the season. There are currently 31 auto bids, so there'd only be 1 other slot to fill.
--- If there are co-champs, like the ACC with Duke/MD this year, that fills out the 32.
--- If more than 1 co-champ situation, auto bids go to the teams slotted 1 in their conference tourney. For the other co-champs, last slot would go to who is highest in final season Top 25/50 rankings.
--- All other regular season co-champs and tourney champs go in the 2 group of 32 automatically

** The other 64 teams play a single extra round, so first round sites become Tues/Thur/Sat or Wed/Fri/Sun locations.
--- Build brackets so these games always involve a mid major vs the bigger league schools, until there are no more Mid Majors to pair off (assumption is the Mid's will rarely, if ever, have more than 32 teams in this group), then pair off the remaining big league schools.

*** 2 part Selection Sunday, or Selection weekend. Give out the bottom 64 bracket on Saturday night, then the Top 32, or the Bye group, during the current Sunday slot. Very unlikely teams still playing on Sunday will be in the bottom 64 group. Gives the Tues/Wed teams/fans an extra day to schedule travel plans.
--- alternate idea would be to simply put any team making a Sunday Final game into the auto bye group of 64, since from time to time, a team destined for the lower 64 would make it this far. (make Grandfather rule that only leagues currently finishing up on Selection Sunday can continue to do so, to prevent every league trying to get this loophole)

**** Do seedings pretty much the same they always have been. The Top 32, or bye 32, aren't automatically the 1-8 seeds. Build the brackets like normal for the top 64, then bracket up the first round games so the winner drops into the 64 bracket spot based on the team from the Top 33-64 field.

Posted by: Rogueone | March 12, 2010 9:38 PM | Report abuse

Until a 16 beats a 1, there is no reason to add numerous additional teams. If you want to make it bigger, add 3 more so there are 4 play in games and make those between the last of the at large teams.
If the tournament expands to 96, who would go to these extra games? If they are not on campus, then people would have to travel to them - on a Tuesday. If they are the previous weekend, what happens to the conference tournaments?
Do people even have time for all this extra? The NBA, MLB, hockey, college bowl games all take too long. It is better to leave people wanting more than glad it's over.

Posted by: didnik | March 12, 2010 10:22 PM | Report abuse

Dan, you know I agree with you most of the time. I was all prepared to dispute this, but your percentages really took the wind out of my sails. I didn't realize how many D1 programs there were. As much as I think the tournament is at an ideal length, another 2 crazy wall-to-wall days really wouldn't bother me so much in the context of being barely over 1/5th of the eligible teams.

It might be that I'm drinking, and that earlier I lifted more weight than I ever have, but you've sold me (and I'm normally obstinate). I'll learn to love a round of play-in games, like I'd learn to love an arranged marriage to what turned out to be a really hot, smart, fun woman.

Posted by: Chest_Rockwell | March 13, 2010 12:59 AM | Report abuse

Dan, this is a great article. You've actually got me thinking that expansion might not be such a bad thing. The reason I tend to dislike the idea is because I worry that the "next in" teams will be mediocre BCS teams. If you're in a major conference, you should at least have to have a winning conference record to play for the championship. With expansion, 6-10 might be good enough and it should be harder than that.

But if more mid-majors get in it could be a lot of fun. I have no idea about the actual proposals under consideration, but I wonder about the feasibility of 2 auto-bids from each conference - the regular season and conference champions. That would be up to 62 auto bids and at least 34 at-large. Winning during the season would be rewarded for current 1-bid leagues, and conference tournaments would still offer the "survive and advance" route that makes me love the first two weeks of March so much.

Also, I agree with others that any play-in games should involve at-large teams. Champions from tiny conferences have earned the right to play the big boys and should get that chance. They shouldn't have to prove themselves again on Tuesday before the real tournament starts.

Posted by: AnneG1 | March 13, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

I find the idea of an expansion to be interesting. The percentage argument resonates with me, since I find 1/3 of the teams getting into the playoffs for a league to be optimal. On the other band, the significantly enhanced ability of larger schools to fields better teams argues against this view somewhat.

What I gather is that you will now have 7 rounds: A 32-game first round which the top 32 teams get a bye, and then a 32-team second round in which the first-round winners play the teams with the byes. I also assume that the extra round would be Monday and Tuesday games in the first week to better reward the bye teams (by having the first round winners be more tired).

The clincher for me is that this allows all of the conference champions to be rewarded, and perhaps also with byes. It also gives the teams more to play for during the regular season, since the byes will really count for something.

I suggest that the NCAA try it and see, maybe doing an 80-team format first for a few years before trying out the full 96-team format. I will warn that too many teams involved (like in basketball and hockey) does become a turn-off for me: I am not interested in seeing a lousy team being buthered by a superior team, and if the lousy team becomes a "Ciderella" team I can find a regular-season loser advancing to be even more of a turn-off. I don't need for every team to have a real chance, but I do want to be able to say that every team present somehow deserves the chance that they have by virtue of being there.

Posted by: ems57fcva | March 15, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

How many ways can I say No, no and hell no to expansion. Why is it that we try to fix what is NOT broken. C'mon son!! Yes you can make statistics to make most arguments,and it sounds good in theory, but is always more the merrier? If the althetes havent already missed enough class heck let them miss more, right? Making the tournament should be about having an excellent regular season (or making a run in your conference tournament). What is this a t-ball tournament where everyone gets a trophy and a pat on the head? (which is basically what college football has turned into with the crazy number of unwatchable bowl games).

Hey it is kinda fun and a topic of conversation about seeding and bubble teams as well as filing out a bracket for office pools. With expansion what would we be talking about. Hey (choose your ACC, Big East, SEC, Big Ten team here) they went 6-10, they should be in the field of 96. Oh really? Yeah theoretically what now they would have to play 10 games to get to the final four? Dont we already have the play in games already with the conference tournaments?
With expansion, the brackets would look like the US Tax Codes or the health care bill.
We all know that eventually the Powers(money, TV) that be will expand, maybe not immediately to 96 but they will eventually move it to that direction and we all will watch because heck college basketball postseason tournaments are fun. It will just lose a little of its luster IMHO.

Posted by: mjterry99 | March 15, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Barno is cra-zy! People don't fear change, they fear stupid things and stuff!

Posted by: Poopy-McPoop | March 15, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

Dan, enjoy the Bog - I don't agree with you in this case tho & just wish someone would say that a.) it's about money and more importantly b.) this is gonna take the games off free TV and make people PAY for March Madness. Given the recent brouhaha about US-Can hockey prelims on cable, I know not many in the media care about little people who don't pay for TV, but would be worth stating at least, since that will be the main outcome of a 96-team field.

Posted by: StikeDC1 | March 15, 2010 5:10 PM | Report abuse

64 teams...65 teams...96 teams...180 teams...24 teams...adding or subtracting teams does not affect the "bubble." There will always be "bubble" team(s) regardless of the size of the field.

I think 64 teams is the perfect amount.

Posted by: gpoi | March 15, 2010 7:57 PM | Report abuse

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