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Jeff Eisenberg

You may not want 96 teams, but your favorite coach likely does

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Have you ever had an inkling that something awful was about to happen and you were powerless to stop it? That's the way I feel about the possibility of the NCAA Tournament expanding to 96 teams.

In a show of support as transparent as Britney Spears' Grammys dress, a handful of prominent coaches came out in favor the expanded field today, citing the large number of worthy teams left out of the field each year. Translation: A greater chance to make the tournament equals greater job security, so of course coaches and athletic directors will be on board.

"I felt bad for our kids the last couple of years," Florida coach Billy Donovan told the Palm Beach Post. "You're right there, a game or two away from maybe being in and then they don't get a chance to go. And then there's a perception that if you're in the NIT or if you're in one of those other tournaments that it's quote-unquote a loser's tournament. And I don't believe that."

Uh, Billy, we hate to break this to you, but it's known as the Nobody's Interested Tournament for a reason. It is a loser's tournament.

Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall was among those coaches who argued that a 96-team field would present greater opportunities for elite mid-major teams annually snubbed in favor of a middle-of-the-pack BCS team.

The example Marshall cited was his 2007 Winthrop team, which went into the Big South tournament title game unsure if it would get an at-large bid with a loss despite a 27-4 record with close losses to four teams that earned top-three NCAA seeds.

"My point is, that's ridiculous," Marshall said in a teleconference with reporters on Tuesday. Obviously there's the bias that the 7th place team in a BCS league is better than the second or third place team in our league. With the non-conference performance from our league this year and the wins we have against BCS teams, I just don't think that's the case."

The problem with Marshall's argument is that while a handful of deserving smaller schools might make it every year, so too will the 17-15 eighth-place team from the Big Ten. That creates a watered-down tournament, which is why Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobsen isn't on board with the idea, even if it would benefit him and his program from a professional standpoint.

"I like it where it's at. I like the 65," Jacobsen said in a teleconference. "Obviously it's difficult to make that field but that's why it's the best sporting event of the entire year, regardless of college or professional."

It will take more men like Jacobsen speaking from the heart for this idea to return to the scrap heap where it belongs. TV networks see an opportunity to make money off more content to sell to advertisers, the NCAA sees the chance for a more lucrative broadcast deal and BCS coaches and athletic directors see increased job security.

Aside from the fans, what's the only entity with an incentive to speak out against expanding the NCAA field? That would be the NIT, and we all know how much the well being of that tournament is going to matter.

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