Expanded NCAA tourney would add excitement

By By Austin Bishop / EMG regiional editor
March 11, 2002
Many musings on a Monday morning while wondering whatever happened to Jim Hatfield …
This column is being written before the NCAA selection committee announces the field for this year's Division I men's basketball tournament, so I have no idea who made it and who didn't.
I am sure there are some surprises in the field of 65 and some disappointed teams who will be relegated to the expanded 40-team field of the NIT. And there will even be a team or two who will feel like it got slighted and was left out of both tournaments.
I can remember when only conference champions were invited to the NCAA Tournament. One year in the 1970s I believe there was even a tournament for second-place teams in St. Louis.
But that has changed, and for the better I must admit.
In fact, I am one of those who thinks it would be good for the NCAA Tournament to expand even more. A move to 72 teams would allow for more good, solid programs to make the field and would lead to better early round games and even more upsets which make March Madness so great.
How, you ask? Wouldn't seven more teams make for even more blowouts in the early stages?
Nope, not with my formula.
Here is how it would work. You continue to allow the conference tournament champions from every NCAA Division I conference known to man to make the tournament. I really don't mind that at all and think it's great that schools ranging from the size of Samford, Winthrop and Coastal Carolina, all the way to the big boys such as Michigan and UCLA enter March with a chance to play in the Big Dance.'
What would happen with the seven additional at large bid is that more schools from the major conferences, such as the SEC, ACC and PAC 10 would make it.
Having those teams in the tournament, would likely push some of the minor conference champions down a seeding notch or two.
Each region would now have 18 teams instead of 16. The top 14 teams in each region, in effect, would receive a bye.
That sets up a mini play-in tournament in each region between the bottom four seeds, which means your first games would have the No. 15s playing the No. 18s and the No. 16s playing the No. 17s.
Not only would that provide a couple more games, which would probably be close and well contested, but strengthen the bottom of the field when it came down to the next round.
How is that, you ask? Well, let me explain.
Most of those bottom four teams in each regional would have made the tournament anyway. These are the champions of the smaller conferences around the nation.
When you add seven more teams, they will probably not be the bottom seven seeds, but will be mixed in and drive the other seeds down loser.
So what used to be the No. 13 and No. 14 seeds, are the now the No. 15s and 16s. And the former No. 15s and 16s, are now the No. 17s and 18s.
That means the quality of team your No. 1 and No. 2 seeds are going to face, will be much better, leading to better "first-round" games for those guys and a more interesting tournament.
Not only that, but it gives other places a chance to host one of the "play-in" regionals, where four teams will be playing their hearts out to make it to the big field.
Some will argue that the NIT field will them be diluted.
Believe me, there will still be some outstanding teams that will be left out of the NCAA Tournament. You just can't get them all in.
In the worst case scenario the NIT would have to go back to 32 teams, but that would be fine as well. But here is one writer who says there will still be 40 quality teams left for that field with some teams being left out and still whining about being overlooked.
Will this happen? Probably not. Should it? maybe.
But either way, it is certainly worth exploring.

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