Bigger is Not Always Better

Not even three days removed from crowning Duke as 2010 National Champions, talks about expanding the tournament field to 96 teams are swirling.  Compiled with the simultaneous national jump of almost every college basketball fan (other than true Blue Devil fanatics) onto the Butler band-wagon, there are many who think that expansion will allow for more “Cinderella” stories.  Well ladies and gentlemen, let me assist you in getting your facts straight.  To begin, Butler was and is not a Cinderella story.  The team was ranked inside the top 10 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll (including the preseason rankings) a total of five times.  Throughout the course of the ENTIRE season, they never fell out of the top 25.  A team consistently ranked in the top 25 nationally, and occasionally being placed in the top 10 should expect to compete for a nation championship.  I’m not buying Butler as a “Cinderella” story, not in the least bit.

Now, back to the topic at hand.  As I was saying, many people think that expanding the field to 96 teams will allocate more space for mid-majors, allowing for the increased possibility of a “Cinderella” type effort.  In the NCAA Tournament, and under the current 65 team format, 31 teams receive automatic bids (which in a previous article, I have already expressed my displeasure about) and 34 teams receive at-large bids.  These 34 teams are allegedly the best 34 teams in the country that did not win their conference tournament.  The Power 6 conferences usually (and deservedly) dominate the at-large bid field, and 2010 was no different.  In this past NCAA tournament, the at-large bid distribution by conference was as follows:

Big East (7)

Big 12 (6)

ACC (5)

Big Ten (4)

SEC (3)

Pac-10 (1)

In one of the worst years for the Pac-10 (which usually puts in at least two or three at-large teams) Power 6 conferences comprised 26 of 34 possible at-large bids.  Of the remaining 8 bids, 5 were distributed to teams located within the Atlantic 10 (2) and the Mountain West Conference (3).  These conferences no longer have a place in the “mid-major” category considering their consistent output of NCAA tournament teams that perform relatively well.  That essentially leaves just 3 at-large bids for “mid-majors.”

Considering the numbers that I just presented, if we examine a possible expansion to 96 teams, there would simply be an influx of the Power 6 conference teams, while “mid-majors” would still be receiving a minimal amount of bids.  In order to have a 96 team field, 31 more teams would need to be added to the field.  If the bid distribution continues as it has in the past, approximately 23-24 more Power 6 conference teams would receive at-large bids, while the remaining 7-8 bids would be left for smaller conference teams.  That would mean outside of the 31 automatic bids, 50 possible NCAA tournament teams would come from Power 6 conferences, while there would only be approximately 15-16 spots for smaller conference schools.  And, of those 15-16 spots, almost 10 would be consumed by the A-10 and the MWC (and that is not even considering the usual WCC team Gonzaga), leaving a measly 6-7 spots for “mid-majors.”

Do not fall into the trap of turning on ESPN and listening to the analysts talk about expansion and the possible increased relevance of “Cinderella” stories.  All you have to do is take a look at the trend of how bids have been distributed essentially since 1985 (when 64 teams were put into the tournament) and you will realize that expansion of the tournament to 96 teams is simply a way to put more money into the pockets of Power 6 conference schools, and actually give teams like Providence and Boston College a shot at making the “Big Dance” when we all know they cannot compete at an elite level.

Consider this…many of us believe that the NIT is meaningless now, imagine how pointless it will become after the NCAA field is expanded to 96 teams…


2 Responses

  1. This is all about the almighty dollar. But what I don’t understand is that while this move is being made for $$$, why doesn’t the NCAA do the obvious and fix the BCS?

    Why are they fixing something that’s not broke. Put the BCS stats to use and make the top 8 BCS teams play in a bracket style playoff. It will generate more money (which is the only thing the NCAA cares about because it is a monopoly) and actual sports fans would be happy.

    The NCAA is a terrible organization and I will save my gripes about that travesty for another time.

  2. Agreed, the BCS championship should be decided by a playoff. But, it also needs to be considered that by the end of bowl season, some teams have played 14 games. Putting in a bracket system with eight teams would lead championship teams to play 16 or even 17 games. Also, the NCAA football season would now be lasting into mid or even late January. A prolonged season would be tough on COLLEGE athletes, and plus it would cut into revenue generated for possible NCAA basketball tournament teams, as January is when the chase for the tourney (and conference play) gets underway.

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