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Casual Thoughts on NCAA Tournament Expansion


For the most part, we here at Casual Hoya have stayed out of the NCAA Tournament expansion discussion mainly because it just added more misery and pain to what we were already feeling, courtesy of the Georgetown loss to Ohio.  But now that the 2009-10 season is officially over, let's dwell on how terrible college basketball will be if the Tournament expands to 96 teams and destroys the greatest sporting event ever created.

(More hurt and pain after the Jump)

For those out of the loop, here is a quick recap, in one absurdly long run-on sentence:

The NCAA feels that their $6 billion deal with CBS does not provide them enough money to do whatever the hell they do with the money, other than make terrible commercials, and is considering expanding the current 65-team NCAA Tournament to 96 teams in an effort to (1) opt out of their existing contract with CBS and seek the greener pastures of other broadcast partners and (2) suck more money from fans and advertisers by adding an additional round of games while not acknowledging that more games in March would mean their treasured student-athletes would be spending less time in the classroom, thereby further failing to fulfill the student aspect of their student-athlete responsibilities, which most major programs disregard anyway judging by the recent hoopla over graduation rates.

In sum, the NCAA is making a conscious decision to value the athlete portion of student-athlete more than the student.  They fail to acknowledge, however, that devaluing classroom activities hurts small, private, often mid-major schools; the very schools the NCAA is trying to give more opportunities to through tournament expansion.  In addition, they incorrectly contend that expansion is good for the game, and creates a more competitive basketball landscape.

There has been plenty of opposition from a host of commentators, journalists and pundits, some of which can be found hereherehereherehereherehere, and here.

The only pro-expansion article I have seen only repeats what coaches have been saying for months - that tournament expansion makes more coaches and programs feel "successful" (the author's own words).  To reinforce the point, the author references a quote by our favorite foppish dandy, Jay Wright:

"When I first became a Division I head coach, I think there were 297 teams. Now there's 347.  The tournament has stayed the same size. The game has grown, all of the conferences have grown, and the mid-major programs have grown. There are just so many more good teams out there."

Why is it assumed that there are more good teams because there are more total teams?  The proportion of good teams to total teams isn't a constant.  Couldn't the number of garbage teams have grown instead?  When the NHL expanded to 30 teams, the talent pool of players became thinner and the game suffered.  If the MLB were to expand without an expansion draft, it wouldn't mean that there are more good teams and players, it just means that the difference between the haves and have nots is greater.  The same thing easily could have happened in college basketball.  If Division II athletics were to merge with Division I, there will certainly not be more good teams out there.

More importantly, BCS conference schools are the benefactors of tournament expansion, not the mid-majors.  Mid-majors actually suffer because instead of having to beat six schools with significantly bigger budgets than them to win a National Championship, they have to beat seven.  And the argument that more coaches and program will feel successful is poppycock.  You really think that getting a 19-seed in the 2010 NCAA tournament would have saved Norm Roberts' job at St. John's?  Advancing to second series of 32 games will be the new barometer of "success," playing in the opening round will become the new NIT, and the same amount of coaches will be fired each year.

Perhaps the most hypocritical and near-sighted argument for tournament expansion comes from our whiny magoo-like enemy from the north.  When asked about tournament expansion earlier this year, constant complainer Jim Boeheim had this to say about a 96 team tournament and opening round byes:

"We don't have the 65 best teams in the tournament right now. We have automatic qualifiers, so there's teams in there that aren't the best teams in the country. If we expand it to 96, one weekend give 32 teams off, let 32 teams play the next 32 - the last 32 - you'll come out after one weekend with the 64 best teams in the country and play the rest of the tournament."

Less than one month later, after his top-seeded Oranges were knocked out of the Big East Tournament by the 8-seed Hoyas, Boeheim had the following to say about uneven tournament schedules:

"I think the double-bye is awful. It's a huge advantage to be playing instead of waiting.''

Thanks Jim, always knew we could count on you to unintentionally show the flaws and faults in arguments.  So tournament expansion will be great for the top 8 seeds, until they lose in the first round to a streaking 17 seed, that will most likely be from a major conference.  Tournament expansion is good for bad teams and bad for good teams. 

Even more telling is a mock 96-team bracket CBS put together which includes the following potential first round games:

  • #16 UConn vs. #1 Duke
  • #16 UNC vs. #1 Kansas
  • #16 Dayton vs. #1 Syracuse
  • #16 Seton Hall vs. #1 Kentucky

Wow, those are exciting games, that I would like to have seen played in DECEMBER.  UConn, UNC and Dayton all started the season ranked in the Top 25 but fell out by season's end because they did not perform.  Those four 16 seeds were a combined ten games under .500 in conference play and have no business playing teams that were a combined 48 games above .500 in March.  Why would the regular season matter anymore if everyone plays in March?

Back to those dear mid-majors.   Let's take a look at Ohio, partly because I am a sick bastard but mainly because the logo is burned into my retina like the image of the Situation hooking up with Snooki in the hot tub.  To advance to the second round of the tournament under the 96-team scenario proposed above, Ohio would have to beat both Minnesota and Xavier.  Tough order.  Murray State would have had to beat Illinois and Baylor.  Are we actually supposed to believe that tournament expansion helps the St. Mary's, Cornell  and Northern Iowa types - the Cinderellas that make magical runs to the Sweet 16 and beyond, knocking off heavy favorites along the way?  Or does it help the likes of Northwestern, Seton Hall and North Carolina State - the perennial bubble teams that have not consistently made the cut?  The teams that always have a chance at the beginning of the season but always come up short.

There really isn't a logical reason to argue for expansion, because this change is about one thing and one thing alone: money.  And because of that fact, the tournament change is coming, regardless of what is in the best interest for fans, teams, athletes and the sport.  At the end of the day, there is nothing we can do about it, threats of boycotts of future tournaments won't matter, it won't change a thing.  Neither will this post, but hopefully it gives you a forum to bitch, whine, complain and vent.  I feel a lot better already, but it is mainly because I got to rip on Boeheim.

Good talk.