We're all quick to crucify the NCAA for its heavy-handed rules and its money-hungry ways. Let's also be sure to give the organization credit when it gets something right.
Amid widespread outrage over the notion of expanding the men's basketball tournament from 65 to 96 teams, the NCAA announced Thursday morning that it is at least temporarily scrapping that idea. Instead it is on the verge of expanding the NCAA tournament to a more modest 68 teams and has a new 14-year, $10.8 billion TV deal in place with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting guaranteeing every game will be shown live.
The NCAA board of directors will convene next Thursday to address the Division I basketball committee's recommendation to expand to 68 teams. Assuming the proposal is approved by the board as expected, members of the Division I basketball committee will meet twice during the summer to discuss various options for how to structure the tournament.
"What obviously we will do is share with the board the knowledge we have gained for the last several months, inform them of the committee's decisions and have a discussion and decide from there," NCAA interim president Jim Isch said on a conference call. "At this particular point, given the men's basketball committee's recommendation of 68, this is where we will be for now."
NCAA vice president Greg Sheehan cautioned that the field size of the tournament is at the NCAA's discretion, but insisted "there's no expectation of 96 teams coming up in the near future." Furthermore, CBS Sports president Sean McManus said that further expansion of the tournament is not necessary to justify the hefty price of the new 14-year deal, adding "we're very comfortable with 68. It meets all of our financial and programming needs."
Because the NCAA felt the current media climate demanded that every game be televised live, CBS had to partner with Turner to accommodate those wishes and beat back an aggressive bid from ESPN. Turner will spread its coverage across its cable channels TBS, TNT and TruTV, allowing viewers to watch every first- and second-round game in their entirety for the first time in the tournament's history.
"This is a landmark deal for Turner Broadcasting," said Turner Sports President David Levy. "We will provide unprecedented access to the tournament for the viewers."
In order to entice Turner into a joint bid, McManus had to agree to let TBS alternate coverage of the Final Four with CBS beginning in 2016. Asked whether it may upset viewers who don't have cable that the championship game would no longer be on network TV, McManus said, "It was a necessary component to getting this deal done."