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Jeff Eisenberg

John Feinstein exposes the hypocrisy of NCAA tourney expansion

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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If the NCAA was hoping to unveil its men's basketball tournament expansion plan without anyone revealing its hypocrisy, someone probably should have prevented John Feinstein from grabbing a microphone at Thursday's news conference.

The Washington Post columnist picked apart the proposed schedule laid out by NCAA senior vice president Greg Shaheen, noting that whittling a 96-team field to four in just 11 days would require Sweet 16 teams to miss an entire week of class.

Rather than lengthening the tournament a week and risk hurting TV ratings by having the Final Four go head-to-head against the Masters, the NCAA instead intends to cram an extra round of basketball into the usual three-week time span. Under that plan, 64 teams would play the round of 96 on the Thursday and Friday of Week 1 and the 32 winners would face the 32 first-round bye recipients on Saturday and Sunday. Then after a one-day respite on Monday, the 32 remaining teams would play on Tuesday and Wednesday to whittle the survivors down to our familiar Sweet 16, which would start on Thursday of Week 2 as it always has.

Shaheen glossed right over the fact that Sweet 16 teams would be on the road the entire second week and could not attend any class, leading to this classic heated exchange with Feinstein:

Q. Basically they'll be out of school an entire week the second week?
GREG SHAHEEN: Actually, if you were to look at the window for each individual team, you have to take each team and contemplate the fact right now you have half the field leaving campus on Tuesday, returning on Sunday or Monday.

Q. If they lose. I'm talking about the teams that win and advance. You're going to advance 16 teams.
GREG SHAHEEN: No, actually in the current model you have teams that depart on Tuesday, and even if they win, return on Sunday.

Q. We're misunderstanding each other. Under the new model that you laid out, you play 64 teams Thursday/Friday. 32 advance to games Saturday/Sunday. Then you are down after those games to 32 teams.
GREG SHAHEEN: Right.

Q. You're saying you play games in the round of 32 Tuesday/Wednesday. They would then advance to regionals when?
GREG SHAHEEN: They would continue into the regional as it's normally scheduled now.

Q. So they would go Tuesday to Thursday, Wednesday to Friday?
GREG SHAHEEN: Right.

Q. So they miss an entire week of school. That's what I'm trying to get.
GREG SHAHEEN: If you listened to my original answer, they leave now on Tuesday.

Q. I'm talking about the second week, not the first week. They play a game Saturday/Sunday, play a game Tuesday or Wednesday, then go directly to the regional. Tell me when in that second week they're going to be in class.
GREG SHAHEEN: The entire first week, the majority of the teams would be in class.

Q. You're just not going to answer the question about the second week. You're going to keep referring back to the first week, right? They're going to miss the entire second week under this model.
GREG SHAHEEN: So they're going to go to school the first week, and then they're --

Q. They're going to be under the same schedule you said basically the first week, and then they'll miss the entire second week.
GREG SHAHEEN: I'm clearly missing the nuance of your point.

Q. You and I miss nuances a lot. Thank you.
BOB WILLIAMS: Next question, please.

Kudos to Feinstein for not backing down and for exposing the NCAA for what it is: A money-hungry institution that preaches academics only when it does not come at the expense of its bottom line.

And Shaheen knew this news conference would be the verbal equivalent to facing a firing squad, so what an epic fail on his part in terms of being prepared to answer that question.

The bottom line from the news conference is that the NCAA tournament is going to expand to 96 teams, even if Shaheen insists nothing has been decided and that both the status quo or expanding to only 68 teams remain an option. The process of going to 96 is far enough along that the NCAA already has a proposed schedule in place and the revenue allocations in mind.

But if the NCAA is going to shove this 96-team tournament down our throats, the least it could do is acknowledge why it's doing it.

Admit that this has nothing to do with creating more opportunities for more teams or a better tournament for the fans and everything to do with the added TV revenue that an expanded field will generate. And, lastly, admit this money grab is coming at the expense of the "student athlete."

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