The Madne$$ of Expansion

By: John C. Longton III

Staff Writer

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament is held once a year for the duration of three weekends, and is the spotlight of the sports world.

The Tournament is usually held in the last couple weeks of March and it’s Final Four traditionally plays their games in the first week of April.

Acting as a segway, the tournament bridges the gap from a cold winter and offers an escape to a more bearable spring where baseball and the NBA Playoffs get underway.

Captivating it’s viewers the tournament sweeps the nation with it’s incredible games, storylines, cinderellas and really embodies the name it’s been given “March Madness.”

Since it’s conception in 1939, the Men’s Division I Basketball tournament has had many makeovers and has changed it’s field size ten times. Some people think that the tournament is too big while others would like to see the field expand. Can’t we be content with the way things are? Or is the all mighty dollar going to have it’s say and increase the number of teams that go dancing?

As of right now the “March Madness” tournament is being broadcasted on four television networks (CBS, TNT, TBS, and TruTV), which brings in over $1 billion dollars in ad revenue. Originally the tournament started out with eight teams and since then it has been restructured ten times. Today the national tournament hosts a field of sixty-eight teams. There is some speculation that that number could rise to over one hundred sooner rather than later. This would increase the ad revenue and would be great for CBS and Turner broadcasting, but the debate is whether it is worth it.

“The driving force behind all of this are the dollars,” said Hudson Valley Head Basketball Coach Mike Long. “You would start to get teams that shouldn’t be in the tournament. Things would start to get watered down with expansion.” An expansion would put less of an emphasis on the regular season and it would seem like everyone would make the tournament. “In little league everyone got a participation trophy. It would be a similar to that,” said Long.

Right now the current format for the tournament awards thirty-two automatic bids to teams that win their conference tournaments and thirty-six at large bids to teams that are deserving of an appearance despite not winning their conference. The at large bids and the tournament seeding are chosen by a selection committee the sunday before the tournament starts, which is widely known as “Selection Sunday”. The committee consists of ten people, who are athletic directors and conference commissioners from across the country, this is because of the magnitude of the tournament.

Every year there are a few “bubble” teams that feel as if they deserved a tournament bid, but there was no room for them due to all of the mid-major conference champions. This has sparked a debate on reformatting or expanding the tournament so those teams would get in.

Coach Mike Long played his college basketball at Siena College, a mid major that has five tournament appearances and has made it as far as the second round.  Though the field wasn’t big enough for his team to get in when he played he is in favor of this current format. “The tournament is big enough right now where schools like Siena and UAlbany are gonna get that opportunity, but if you expand it even more it’s really going to get watered down,” said the coach.

Some people have even thought of getting rid of the automatic bids and having the selection committee select the entire field. “There are at large teams that have a great year and definitely deserve to get in and then you see some of the conference champions that get in that aren’t as good as the at large teams,” said Long. “On the other hand if you get rid of the conference champion bid some of the teams that win the smaller conferences that definitely deserve to get in might not get an at large bid. I can see both sides of the story.” Long said.

Right now the current format panders to both sides of the argument. It puts just enough weight on a team’s regular season schedule to where it would be their own fault for not getting in. And on the other hand it gives the smaller schools a national spotlight where they might not have. If the tournament were to be expanded  it would take away from the regular season and it would be giving bids as if they were participation trophies. Mike Long said, “In Little League I did not want mine.”


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