Monday, February 1, 2010

Sorry, NCAA, but Your 96 Will Never Be as Great as a 69.

It has been speculated for a while, but it looks like the NCAA is determined to expand the men's tournament from 65 to 96 teams and that it is now a "done deal" according to SportsbyBrooks. The move would add 31 teams to the mix and, most importantly for the NCAA, 15 more games. More games means more money and we all know this is perfectly consistent with the mission of the NCAA:

"Our purpose is to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount."
--From the Our Mission page of the NCAA

Wait, you mean adding more games and more teams to the tournament will further "integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education?" If by integrate one means student-athletes will miss more classes, especially around mid-terms, then absolutely. The commitment these kids show by dedicating themselves both to their teams and to the professors who shape their young minds is really something else. And this says nothing about the impact the expansion will have on the student bodies of the no-longer marginal schools who will now be able to participate in March Madness. I foresee a great number of cram sessions in the carrels and dorm rooms of UMass, Drexel, Long Beach State and the like. These kids just have to get their homework done before the games begin.

Not happening, Ricky.

The best part is the number of upsets will surely increase with the greater number of .500 teams from big conferences and occasional small conference teams who are added to the mix. Actually not. It will be the same as it always is. Hope will grow like spring grass--Gosh, Jimmy, maybe we will be the Valparaiso or George Mason of the tournament this year--only to be scythed down by big-time, moneyed programs. That is reality. Last season, upsets were rare and inconsequential. In the first round the lower seed prevailed in 10 of 32 games, and three of these were 10-seeds beating 7-seeds; hardly Cinderella material. The second round? One lower-seeded team beat a higher seeded opponent, with #5 Purdue besting #4 Washington. Your heart beating faster upon recalling the game? Mine neither. (Actually, this was a good game but hardly an upset.) The Sweet Sixteen round produced eight teams, all of which were 1-, 2- or 3-seeds.

Upsets are the exception, but the NCAA markets them like they are what the tournament is all about. The tournament is all about cash. And this is why teams like my alma mater (UMass) and those from other smaller programs shouldn't get their hopes up. The field will expand to 96 but it won't be the mid-majors who benefit. It will be the middling schools from the big conferences. Think Big-10, Pac-10, Big-12, ACC, SEC Why? Because these are the schools with the big alumni associations who will throw down for the travel packages. And wouldn't you rather see fan shots of hotties from Florida State, University of Miami and Vanderbilt than those of the heifers who roll in from DePauw or North Dakota State? We thought so.

or Florida State?

The NCAA will go forward with this because more games means they can extract more money from whatever network bids for the tournament. The contract with CBS expires after this year's tournament. Expect ESPN and it's satellite stations--It's the upstart Coppin State Eagles facing down the Kentucky Wildcats on the Ocho!--to swoop in and secure the bid.

This won't be the end of the world as the purists will have you believe, but it won't make the tournament any better either. Was anyone really complaining about the lack of games? This change will just mean more games, more gambling, more articles about more productivity lost in the workplace and, with any luck, more shots of girls like the Seminole duo above.

As for DePauw and feeder/gainer fans everywhere, they won't be left out in the post-season cold. There's still the NIT after all. It'll be around at least until the NCAA decides to expand the tournament to 128 teams in 2018.

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