Tournament expansion unlikely to benefit Ivy League, Cornell coach says

By Jonathan Gault | 12/10/09 2:05pm

The Dartmouth

The NCAA and its broad­cast­ers have been meet­ing to dis­cuss a po­ten­tial ex­pan­sion of the NCAA men’s bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment from 65 to 96 teams, ac­cord­ing to the Sports Busi­ness Jour­nal. The move would ef­fec­tively in­cor­po­rate the cur­rent Na­tional In­vi­ta­tional Tour­na­ment into the NCAA tour­na­ment, and could re­sult in an ad­di­tional Ivy League team play­ing in March Mad­ness.
Under the plan, the top 32 seeds in the tour­na­ment would re­ceive byes, and the 64 ad­di­tional teams would play an extra game be­fore the field is trimmed from 96 to 64.
This may be good news to peren­nial also-rans in the ACC or Big 10. Even a die-hard sports fan would be hard pressed to name the win­ner of the NIT this year (Penn State).
But even with 96 teams in the tour­na­ment, it is un­likely that the Ivy League would re­ceive a sec­ond tour­na­ment bid. The move is being pushed by power con­fer­ence schools that face strong sched­ules but often miss out on tour­na­ment bids, Cor­nell men’s bas­ket­ball head coach Steve Don­ahue said in an in­ter­view with The Dart­mouth.
Don­ahue, whose squad has cap­tured the Ivy League’s au­to­matic bid the past two years, is not a fan of the pro­posal.
“My ini­tial re­ac­tion, not know­ing all the things that they’re talk­ing about is that I don’t like the idea,” Don­ahue said. “I think that we’re going to end up wa­ter­ing down the prod­uct. I think there’s great in­trigue [in the tour­na­ment] right now, and my ini­tial re­ac­tion would be let’s not mess with some­thing like that.”
The extra bids would prob­a­bly not help smaller schools such as Dart­mouth, Don­ahue said.
“That isn’t why they’re doing this,” Don­ahue said. “This is being ini­ti­ated by the higher con­fer­ences. I don’t think that’s why they’re doing it, trust me on that one.”
Over­all, the change could serve to di­lute the qual­ity of the field and the reg­u­lar sea­son, de­valu­ing the cov­eted 34 at-large spots awarded on Se­lec­tion Sun­day. Con­sider that, in last year’s tour­na­ment, Michi­gan, Mary­land and Ari­zona all re­ceived at-large bids with 13 losses.
Col­lege bas­ket­ball teams, un­like col­lege foot­ball teams, are given plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties to prove that they be­long through pre-sea­son tour­na­ments, an ex­panded non-con­fer­ence sched­ule and con­fer­ence tour­na­ments. If a team is left out, it is often be­cause it is sim­ply not good enough to com­pete for the na­tional cham­pi­onship.
The NCAA tour­na­ment’s last major ex­pan­sion came in 1985, jump­ing from 53 to 64 teams. The play-in game was added in 2001.

Jonathan Gault