Tournament expansion unlikely to benefit Ivy League, Cornell coach says
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.