Final Four notes: Route 96

INDIANAPOLIS – An expanded NCAA tournament field appears inevitable.

The most likely scenario: a move to 96 teams.

NCAA senior vice president of basketball and business strategies Greg Shaheen said Thursday that a formal decision will be announced at the end of July. The NCAA’s $6 billion contract with CBS to broadcast the tournament ends in 2013, but the NCAA can opt out of that deal this year.

The top eight seeds in each region would get a first-round bye in a 96-team tournament.
(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Proposals on the table include sticking with 65 teams, growing to 68 (with essentially four opening-round games) or leaping to 96.

Shaheen, who said there was no predisposition, spent most of his time talking about the 96-team model.

The bottom line: It’s all about the benjamins.

“I think the premise here is to create a model that most likely provides stability over time,” Shaheen said. “If you were to look at the NCAA’s contract, since the expansion – over the last 25 years, the media revenue, the media rights revenue, has grown 2,200 percent. So the curve of that is significant. And the need for that, when we’re moving 96 cents on the dollar to our membership, is to offer security in that regard.”

Translation: Prepare to start filling out a bigger bracket.

Shaheen said that a 96-team tournament would start on a Thursday and conclude on a Monday – with two extra days of games added during the second week.

Here’s how it would work:
• The current Tuesday play-in game would be eliminated.
• The No. 1-8 seeds in each region (32 total teams) would get a bye on the opening Thursday and Friday while the other 64 schools play.
• The top 32 teams would begin play on the opening weekend (facing the 32 Thursday-Friday winners).
• After the opening weekend, 32 teams would remain.
• The second week would start with Tuesday-Wednesday games that would narrow the field to 16.
• The Sweet 16 would pick up on Thursday of the second week, as is currently the case.

The 32-team NIT would be discontinued as those teams would be incorporated into the NCAA field. Conference tournaments, however, would be kept, with the champions still earning automatic bids.

Keeping conference tournaments intact was a concern for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

“What you do with conference tournaments is important,” he said. “You might have to have them end [earlier]. I think you should still have them. If we do go that far, the people who should be rewarded are the regular-season champs. I think you should still have them in there. Then you should have your conference tournaments and the winners of those should go in, too. If the Patriot League gets two teams in, so be it. That’s good. I would still like to have the conference tournaments. They make a lot of money and it’s a way of each conference celebrating their conference, and I think that’s a good thing.”

The NCAA field went to 64 teams in 1985 and stayed that way until 2001, when a 65th team was added.

The NCAA has been without a president since Myles Brand’s death in September 2009. Interim president Jim Isch will make the call on expansion in conjunction with the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee and the Division I board of directors.

HINKLE FACELIFT? According to a published report, Butler is hoping to raise $10 million to $12 million to renovate historic Hinkle Fieldhouse, the home of the Bulldogs made famous in the movie “Hoosiers.”

In addition to being Butler’s homecourt, the 82-year-old arena has played host to many Indiana high school state championships. It has a capacity of 11,000.

The Indianapolis Business Journal reported that Butler officials did a study after the roof of the building was damaged last summer.

New amenities would include additional restrooms and concessions stands. The plan would be to maintain the integrity of Hinkle, but to modernize.

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Updated Thursday, Apr 1, 2010