No need to invite more to Big Dance

The NCAA tournament field should not expand to 96 teams.

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by Josh Katzenstein

Look, itâÄôs a foregone conclusion that if the Division I MenâÄôs Basketball Committee wants to expand the Big Dance to 96 teams, then itâÄôs going to happen. And since it appears that the change is inevitable, I might as well say why itâÄôs a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea. Before I get into the good stuff, let me mention this is being written before Monday nightâÄôs championship game, so if I make it sound like Duke will triumph, thatâÄôs because I picked the Blue Devils to win it all (in each of my pools). The NCAA menâÄôs basketball tournament is perfect in its current structure. It gives enough teams that donâÄôt have a legitimate title chance the opportunity to prove they belong (Ohio vs. Georgetown, anyone?). People complained in the past when the field expanded, and those same people and their children are already indignant about further expansion. In this yearâÄôs tournament, 11 first-round games were blowouts, with the victor winning by at least 15 points. This means at least 11 teams had no real chance at winning the title. Sprinkle a few more blowouts over the course of the tournament, and itâÄôs quite clear that there were a maximum of 10 teams (I wouldâÄôve said five if Butler hadnâÄôt proven everyone wrong) that actually had a shot at cutting down the nets in Indianapolis. The other major problem I see is that the change might just scrap the National Invitation Tournament and give most of those teams spots in the NCAA tournament. North Carolina, this yearâÄôs NIT runner-up, lost by 10 points to Duke at home and by 32 on the road. Can you make an argument that the Tar Heels could have won a game in the NCAA tournament? Sure. Can you make an argument that the Tar Heels had a shot at the title? Absolutely not. âÄúI don’t see any watering down at all,âÄù Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith said in an April 2 Associated Press story. âÄúI think there are a number of teams playing in the NIT that could have gotten in, and I think there will be more people and more excitement with more teams in.âÄù I have to say IâÄôm a little disappointed Smith feels this way, because adding 32 more teams does water down the tournament. If 96 teams can say they accomplished something that formerly only 65 teams could claim, then it does become less important. Period. So many teams would be able to hang banners year after year that having a consecutive-tournaments-made streak would be essentially meaningless. This yearâÄôs tournament will likely help the committee pass an amendment to expand. If No. 5-seeds like Michigan State and Butler can advance to a Final Four, then itâÄôs certainly conceivable that other lower seeds could shock the world. The lower seeds also helped spike TV ratings to their highest level in five years. People love underdogs and feel-good stories. âÄúItâÄôs not going to ruin the tournament,âÄù ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said in an interview with SportsCenterâÄôs Josh Elliott last week. âÄúItâÄôs still going to be great. But the question is, âÄòWhatâÄôs best?âÄô and aside from a big pile of money, which I think we all think is a good thing, thereâÄôs no other good reason to do this.âÄù The proposed change is all about money, and if the NCAA is so desperate to increase revenue, I have two fool-proof ideas that would prevent making this putrid change to 96 teams from being necessary. First, clone CBS commentator Gus Johnson. If Johnson somehow called every game of the tournament, revenue would increase exponentially. Guaranteed. It feels like any game Johnson calls is close, so this would (in theory) keep fans on the edge of their seats every game. Even if the games arenâÄôt close, at least Johnson and his clones will have the innate ability to make them exciting. The second change I propose is to fix the other college postseason that needs fixing. IâÄôm talking about college football, if you were unsure. A move to 96 teams would make college hoops more like college football, in the sense that most bowls are meaningless at this point. For many teams, making the tournament as one of the new last 32 teams would become the equivalent of playing in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Sure, you get the banner, but it doesnâÄôt actually have any merit. Instead, I, like everyone else, say the Division I Football Committee should change its postseason to a playoff system. The revenue that such a tournament would raise could easily be enough to support the current basketball tournament, right? LetâÄôs change the sport that needs changing, and just leave everything else alone.