Since Big Ten Conference commissioner Jim Delaney used the word “probable” in regards to an expanded 96-team NCAA men’s basketball tournament in a story published by USA Today, speculation and criticism has been rampant on the proposed subject.
College basketball fans who fear that an expansion jeopardizes the equilibrium of the tournament cite presume NCAA capitalistic gains as the motive. If this is true, much of the discussion at the next NCAA board meeting, scheduled for April 21, will be on whether the tournament should opt out of its broadcast contract with CBS. Currently, the tournament has three years, $2.131 billion, remaining on its original 11-year, $6 billion contract.
UTSA Athletic Director, and member of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee, Lynn Hickey identifies some of the pros and cons of such an expansion.
“I think there are concerns from some sides that it would be harmful to the regular season, especially the postseason conference tournaments,” Hickey said. “[In addition] that it would water-down the tournament. I think there are concerns about how are you going to split the revenue now since you’re adding so many more teams in.”
But in respect to the positives, Hickey said, “On the other hand, I think there are so many more schools that are playing now and that have made major commitments to basketball programs (prior to) when we moved to 65. To give opportunities to more schools, I think there’s a positive to that.”
Although a men’s expanded tournament is viewed as a possibility, this does not necessarily mean that the tournament format for the women’s tournament would change, at least not right away. After all, the men’s tournament expanded to 64 teams in the 1984-85 season, the women’s didn’t until the 1993-94 season.
According to Jane Meyer, head of the NCAA women’s basketball selection committee, a subcommittee is discussing whether the tournament should expand to 96 teams, and if so, how it could be implemented.
UTSA women’s basketball Head Coach Rae Rippetoe-Blair offered her thoughts on Meyer’s proposal, saying “The one thing is can they get all the games on T.V.? I think that’s going to be the biggest thing; does CBS, ESPN want this? Do they want to broadcast all those games? So I think that’s another area they’re looking at and that means more money.
“I like the tournament the way it is right now, honestly I think there’s a lot of excitement,” Rippetoe-Blair said. “It’s definitely do-able, there’s no doubt about it and I foresee if the men definitely decide to do it, I’m sure the women will too.”
One fact that cannot be argued is the benefits of being involved in the NCAA tournament. Expansion might be the only way that mid-major schools could get in the tournament– a measure that augments a program’s exposure and experience. Not forgetting that the tournament and television contracts fund 90 percent of the NCAA.
Although the subject has been high on public interests since the tournament came to a close, the proposal has long been under consideration. All debate aside, most would agree that a decision couldn’t come soon enough, especially for members of prestigious NCAA basketball selection committees.
“It’s been talked about for a long time and it’s kind of interesting to see everything come to a close in the next couple of months,” Hickey said. “I’m kind of anxious to see what the decision is going to be.”
The NCAA is also considering a 68 and 80 team format– as well as leaving the tourney as is– but the larger expansion seems to fit with the larger economic forecast.