In sports, there are plenty of stories that seem to be unearthed and refreshed every year. Among them is playoff expansion and March Madness is the latest to enter those conversations.
The NCAA’s top dog was part of the organization’s record $1.16 billion in 2021, or about 85% of revenue. With this success, the NCAA is would have discussing increasing the tournament to 68 teams. Slices of 96 to 128 teams have been offered, but all will get the only thing they care about from the NCAA: a bigger slice of the pie.
Not only is tournament expansion a crime against the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, it could destroy what already makes the tournament – and the season that brings it – already great. .
As the NCAA’s cash cow, a successful walk is vital. The contract that CBS Networks and Turner Sports have with the NCAA currently runs through 2032, and the latest extension to that deal will provide the NCAA with an additional $8.8 billion.
That’s a wild amount of money until you think 18.5 million people watched the 2022 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship. Not only did 18.5 million people watch a 72- 69 from the Kansas Jayhawk, but they also saw advertisements scrolling across the scorer board, an excessive amount of CapitalOne ads and an endless stream of marketing ploys.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2022 tournament was the first March Madness with full arenas since 2019. The tournament revival not only did the networks well, but it got coaches and the NCAA thinking. “What if we gave them more? ?”
The reason to add
77-year-old Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said he’s been fighting for that expansion for 30 years. Baylor head coach Scott Drew said his preference would be a full 128-team field. Even SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey agrees to look at a larger area for his upcoming 16-team conference.
These talking heads are advocating for more teams in the tournament for several reasons. The first is that the current format leaves out too many talented teams. There are currently 358 college basketball teams and only 19% have the privilege of competing for a national championship.
The second reason the expansion took off is because some coaches think seeing more teams involved and having a chance is not only fair, but more fun for the fans. Last year’s darlings, the Saint Peter’s Peacocks, became the first 15 seeds to reach the Elite Eight. This New Jersey school of 3,000 students quickly became a fan favorite and had the nation cheering on David on his way against multiple Goliaths.
The last main reason the makers are pushing this is much quieter, but it goes without saying: a bigger tournament reduces everyone’s chances of winning. Talented tournament regulars like Duke are fine with adding another play, especially if it’s harder for Cinderella to get to the ball.
The fight against
As a firm believer that the NCAA Tournament is the best post-season in all of sports, I think an extension of the tournament loses the glamor that the regular season brings. Also, it won’t solve the problem of including all the worthy teams and it’s only for the money.
For starters, in last year’s March Madness, Michigan roared on despite losing their first game in the Big 10 tournament and ending with a meager 17-14 record. The argument for Michigan was that they were playing a tough non-conference schedule and they were playing in an extremely talented conference. While that’s true, I can’t wait to see the argument for when a sub-.500 team makes the field because they’ve played tough teams and suffered “quality losses.”
If you’re the Wolverines, for example, why schedule top teams into your non-conference roster? If you schedule winnable matches and average in the Big 10, you have an incredible chance of being included in a 128-team pool.
Another point fans mention is that expanding the field will help include all playoff-worthy teams. While we wait for an agreed-upon definition of what makes a team “worthy,” let me dissect why this issue will never go anywhere as long as someone is eating at the kids’ table.
Back to the Wolverines here. Again, Michigan made the NCAA Tournament last year with a 17-14 record. Last year’s NIT tournament seed, the Dayton Flyers, finished the season with a 23-10 record. An augmented tournament is sure to include both, so while the argument between numbers 68 and 69 is resolved, the battle of numbers 128 and 129 has only just begun. Until all 358 teams are included, someone will always be unhappy.
It’s time to whistle
To go up against singer Jessie J in “Price Tag,” it’s actually all about the money. The NCAA is a business, and while their business provides college athletes with space to compete and is always about “student-athletes,” they have to find ways to make money and keep their product at the top. Becoming obsolete is something that dooms a product, so a stagnant field of March Madness can give leaders that impression.
The shot clock is due to expire during expansion talks for the NCAA Tournament. This will save the importance of the regular season and keep the end result intact: that only the best of the best join the madness.