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Matt Norlander

The big winner in all of this? The regular season

The Dagger

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t sort of felt like that moment when you cringe, cover year eyes and brace for the worse.

And then nothing happens.

You slowly loosen your muscles, peek between your fingers, and that doomed circumstance that seemed to be barreling upon you simply ceased to be. That's what happened when the news broke late this morning about our 2011 (and beyond?) 68-team field. Few could believe it, and after the realization seeped into our brains, many rejoiced.

Amazingly, we were spared a bloated bracket. (That said, I've still seen a few Facebook statuses and tweets that have found issue with expansion of any kind.) For the past six weeks, a 96-team field had become a college basketball lover's lament. It was a done deal, so many said. Can't stop that train. Nope. No way. A lot of experts predicted and expected it to come to fruition, and many of us took their word for it.

Well, many of them were wrong. Conventional wisdom held serve — at least in the short-term. Who knows if this 68-team project is a temporary thing, with decision-makers knowing full well that a move to 96 is in the distant or not-so-distant future (and we'll get to that in a post later this evening).

But for now, let's recognize that, although many casual sports viewers consider college basketball's regular season irrelevant to the landscape of sports in general, at least it will still carry plenty of weight within the sport itself.

A 68-team field means coaches like Seth Greenberg (pictured) will get their chance to coach their teams out of the field again. And what a relief that is!

The regular season still will mean something. It will have consequence. And with that, comes added drama and significance to this 68-team field. Beyond us, the viewers and fans being winners, the regular season is the biggest winner of all. A Big Ten game in the middle of January (you can have your moment to make your Big Ten joke now) can have an effect on seeding and selection. There will be interest in games in November, around Christmas and on Valentine's Day.

Three more spots and one more seed line doesn't infringe upon our bubble-minded speculation in February and March. That's what we should be most grateful for, I feel.

And with a regular season that will still have a value, it should be noted that ESPN, although it lost out in the bidding, will still reap the benefits of the field staying under 70 teams.

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