Either Thursday's annual Final Four news conference was the culmination of a season-long April Fool's joke, or the possibility of a 96-team NCAA tournament is about to become a horrifying reality.
The NCAA showed it doesn't care about what the fans want, it doesn't care about the regular season or conference tournaments and it especially doesn't care about education. All that is secondary to its profit margin.
It's quite possible the NCAA tournament won't suffer all that much as a result of impending expansion, but here are 96 reasons why a 96-team field is undeniably bad for the sport.
1. It detracts from the regular season
Making the NCAA tournament has always been an accomplishment, but a 96-team field makes it the equivalent of a participation trophy for big-conference teams. Would you believe that 13 out of 16 Big East teams likely would have earned an NCAA tournament bid under the expanded format? Or that North Carolina would have been a lock despite finishing 11th in the ACC? Only hardcore college hoops fans watch regular season games before the Super Bowl now, but this renders even the stretch run relevant only for seeding purposes. (Jeff Eisenberg)
2. Tournament pools will be ruined
Have you seen what a 96-team bracket will look like? You think Betsy from accounting is going to be as interested in filling out something that doesn't fit on one page and has more right angles than Pythagorean's old notebook? Plus, it's nearly impossible to make good picks when there are only 63 games. Choosing 95 games will be a debacle! The biggest thing the NCAA tournament has going for it is the casual interest generated by office pools. That could be gone with the expanded field. (Chris Chase)
3. Football needed this, not hoops
It's a slap in the face to fans. College football, which many agree desperately needs expansion, continues to have a playoff system based off checks and balances and computers. Certain schools are inherently at a disadvantage. So the NCAA comes in ... and breaks the best postseason tournament in sports because, basically, it can. HOW. CAN. YOU. BE. SO. OBTUSE. (Matt Norlander)
4. It detracts from conference tournaments
Remember those thrilling conference tourney runs by Washington and San Diego State to move off the bubble and lock up NCAA tournament bids? Or Mississippi State's agony after missing out on the Big Dance when its SEC tournament championship hopes fell one win short? Well, next year, runs like that won't carry the same weight because all but the dregs of those leagues will have locked up a NCAA bid weeks ago. The smallest conference tournaments will still be mostly unaltered, but major conference tournaments will again be relevant for NCAA tournament seeding only. (JE)
5. The complaining about which teams get byes will be insufferable
Thirty-two teams (the top eight seeds in each region) will receive byes in the proposed 96-team bracket. So not only will we hear complaints from bubble teams who didn't get in, we'll have to hear carping from the schools who are seeded No. 9 through No. 12. Before there was no difference between being a No. 8 and a No. 9 seed, which made sense because the teams are usually equal. (No. 9 seeds have actually won more often in the first round.) Now it's the biggest seeding issue of the tournament. It will also mean that instead of Seth Greenberg's annual whining about Virginia Tech not getting into the tournament, we'll hear about the Hokies not getting a bye. (CC)
6. It's profit at the expense of education
If an NCAA representative ever claims that academics are the organization's top priority, the proper response will be a fit of laughter. How could anyone take such talk seriously again after NCAA senior vice president Greg Sheehan repeatedly evaded John Feinstein's questions about the format of the 96-team tournament preventing Sweet 16 teams from attending class for at least a full week? Missed class time has long been one of the reasons school presidents cite for their refusal to adopt a playoff system in college football, yet in college hoops, increased TV revenue trumps all. (JE)
7. The greatest sports days of the year are no more
The first Thursday and Friday of the NCAA tournament are the greatest sports days of the year. Now? Enjoy Nebraska-Sam Houston State ending at midnight on a Tuesday! (CC)
8. Memorable upsets will be rarer
Wave goodbye to the charm of a Robert Morris-Villanova first-round matchup because those won't exist anymore. Oh sure, you'll still have a 1 vs. 16 game in the round of 64, but now that will be top-seeded Kansas vs. 16th-seeded Saint John's or No. 2 seeded West Virginia vs. 18th-seeded Tulsa. Oh delightful. Meanwhile those double-digit seed runs to the Sweet 16 we all enjoyed this year will be a lot tougher when Cinderella has to win three games in six days to get there. (JE)
9. More awful teams in the tournament
You know who didn't deserve to be in the tournament this year? Every team that didn't make it. You know who also didn't deserve to make the field? About six squads that did. Let's add 32 more to the mix. Because Texas-Wake Forest wasn't mediocre enough. (CC)
10. Time off on a Tuesday?
We already have a hard time taking work days off. Now we're talking about throwing a Tuesday into this? Terrific. (MN)
11. Schedule strength is less important
Whatever incentive existed for teams to play marquee non-conference games in order to bolster their NCAA tournament resumes has diminished significantly. Virginia Tech didn't get in the field because of its 340th ranked non-conference schedule this year. Next year, they're a 13th seed facing Utah State in the first round. This will only make it even harder on mid-majors to schedule quality opponents and worse for fans looking for watchable early games. (JE)
12. More teams doesn't mean we needed expansion
I also hate this because of the lack of logic behind the mindset that expansion must happen because other NCAA sports tournaments have. Guess what, the 70 or so teams that have been added to D-I in hoops are all bottom-feeders. We're not seeing more competition for these spots; it's all dead weight. Time and volume is not a legitimate reason. (MN)
13. The women's tournament suffers
If the NCAA men's tournament is expanding to 96 teams, then it's only a matter of time before the women's tournament does it, too. An NCAA committee is already considering the possibility, one that would be even more ludicrous than the men's tournament considering no more than a handful of teams are legit title threats in the women's field and major first- and second-round upsets are already extremely rare. Even if the women's tournament doesn't expand, the 96-team men's tournament would detract from it because Tuesday of Week 2, previously a showcase for the women, will now be overshadowed by men's games held on the same day. (JE)
14. It's already taking away from this year's Final Four
I'd ask why the NCAA was so moronic as to announce the proposed 96-team tournament now during Final Four week, thus taking the spotlight away from what is the sport's most important week. But then I remember, "Oh, they're the same idiots who came up with this sport-killing plan in the first place." (CC)
15. Future generates won't know what we had
Whenever I have children, all they'll get is highlights and stories from their father about what this bracket used to be. I'll whip out my old manila folders with brackets from the early aughts and show them as if they were artifacts. "Yes, son, this was a simpler time." (MN)
16. This may get more coaches fired
Coaches like Jim Boeheim have two reasons to like the expanded field, both are entirely self-serving. First of all, good teams like Syracuse and Duke will get to face teams that have played a game in the previous 48-72 hours. Benefit: high seeds. Second of all, the coaching community now has more members who will make the NCAA tournament and therefore gives less reason to have 32 guys get fired. However, won't not making the NCAA tournament be an even bigger deal now? Let's say you're the coach of a big-time school that misses out on the 96-team field like, say, N.C. State would have this year. Doesn't that make Sidney Lowe more likely to get canned? He can't even make it a field of 96! Be careful what you wish for, guys. (CC)
17-96. Decisions made solely for greed rarely pay off.
This is all about money, nothing else. In the short term it may pay off with a better television contract. Long term it ruins the greatest sporting event ever conceived. (The Dagger)