The NCAA Tourney: From One Shining Moment to 96 Tarnished Gems

The NCAA wanst to add more mediocre teams to March Madness

By Josh Alper
|  Wednesday, Feb 3, 2010  |  Updated 9:27 AM EDT
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The NCAA Tourney: From One Shining Moment to 96 Tarnished Gems

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NCAre you ready for even more March Madness? 

In December, Sports Business Journal reported that the NCAA was kicking around the idea of expanding the NCAA men's basketball tournament from 65 to 96 teams in order to maximize television revenues from the popular event. It seemed far-fetched, similar to reading that Harvard was going to start accepting everyone who applied because it would mean more money in tuition.

The bigger tournament seems like a fairly likely prospect. On Monday, Sports by Brooks, via an ESPN source, reported that the expansion is a "done deal" and the NCAA could kick things off as soon as 2011 after they opt out of their current deal with CBS and get a new broadcast contract for the games. Reports have varied about just how done the deal actually is, but everyone sounds fairly resigned to the new tournament.

It's an awful idea. The top 32 teams would get byes, meaning that the only gain for fans would be an extra round of games between teams effectively seeded 9-24 in their respective brackets. In other words, it's a glorified play-in tournament to get into the actual field. Why not just have every team in the country play? 

And just try fitting 96 teams on a sheet of paper for your office bracket.

Expanding to 96 teams guarantees that the regular season will be watered down and that college athletes will be diverted from class because they are playing a longer basketball season. If those two arguments sound familiar, it is because it is exactly the same argument the NCAA makes when they let people know why they are against a playoff in college football.

It seems like a pretty big contradiction, but it boils down to two things.

The first is money. The NCAA can make all the noise it wants about being interested in academics and grooming future leaders or whatever, but the only reason they really exist is to make money for themselves and the schools. That explains why they'd add 31 games to the tournament and why they'd be so persistent in protecting the chance for third-tier college football teams to earn some coin by playing in games sponsored by GMAC or Papa John's.

The other similarity is far more infuriating. In both basketball and football, the NCAA is going out of its way to reward mediocrity. The low level bowl games exist simply to reward teams coming off of middling seasons and the additional 31 spots in an NCAA basketball tournament serve the same purpose. The only people who think that makes sense are university presidents -- refer back to money -- and coaches whose jobs are far more secure if they can crow about bowl and tournament appearances. 

And just try fitting 96 teams on a sheet of paper for your office bracket.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.

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