Here’s the problem with many ideas that originate from college basketball coaches: They’re often self-serving and not intended to benefit the sport as a whole.
The latest proposal from the ACC is a perfect example.
The league’s 15 men’s basketball coaches have recommended expanding the NCAA tournament from 68 teams to 72, commissioner John Swofford told reporters after the ACC’s spring meetings in Amelia Island, Florida. The goal would be to have a second First Four like the original in Dayton but in another part of the country.
There’s no mystery why coaches would want to expand the NCAA tournament field by four teams and make it easier for teams to secure a bid. Not only is making the NCAA tournament often a barometer for job security for high-major college basketball coaches, it also often triggers six- or seven-figure contract incentive bonuses.
Whether expanding the NCAA tournament to 72 teams would actually benefit college basketball is not nearly as clear-cut.
Yes, a West Coast First Four might cut down on travel time for some teams by an hour or two. Yes, four extra bids might create room for a team or two capable of making a memorable 2006 George Mason or 2012 VCU-esque run. But most likely, at least 3 of those extra bids would go to the type of teams nobody needs more of in the NCAA tournament — middling teams from power conferences that had ample opportunities for quality wins and didn’t capitalize on enough of them.
The four No. 1 seeds in the NIT this past season were Saint Mary’s, USC, Notre Dame and Baylor, one mid-major that didn’t challenge itself sufficiently in non-league play, a Pac-12 squad lacking wins over at-large caliber teams and two other high-majors with 14 losses apiece. Utah, Marquette, Louisville and Oklahoma State were the four No. 2 seeds, and only the Cowboys had anything even resembling an NCAA tournament-caliber resume.
While you can certainly make an argument that a few of those teams could have snared a spot in the field of 68 ahead of controversial inclusion like Syracuse, the event as a whole wouldn’t have been any stronger had all four of those teams been part of a second First Four. Is anyone clamoring for a matinee matchup between Baylor and Notre Dame on the Tuesday after Selection Sunday? Didn’t think so.
The other concern with NCAA tournament expansion is that it’s a slippery, slippery slope. The more teams you add, the more you water down college basketball’s already struggling regular season.
What reason do fans of power-conference teams have to pay attention from November to February if they already know their school is all but guaranteed of an NCAA bid? Eight power-conference teams already made the field of 68 this past season with .500 or worse records in league play. Add any more spots to the field, and that bar will only get lower.
If anything, the NCAA tournament should go back to 64 teams, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find any coaches willing to support that plan.
After all, an expanded NCAA tournament means more job security even if it isn’t necessarily good for the sport as a whole.
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