February 01, 2010
Remember those frightening rumors about the NCAA tournament expanding to 96 teams? They're on their way to becoming a reality, according to one popular sports Web site.
Sports By Brooks reported Monday that NCAA tournament expansion is "a done deal" and could come as soon as 2011. In order for this to happen, the NCAA would have to opt out of its current TV deal with CBS and open the bidding to other networks including ESPN and Fox. Because of the expanded field, the organization expects to bring in more money per year than with its existing contact with CBS (an 11-year, $6 billion deal).
The site quotes an unnamed ESPN source as saying:
"It's a done deal with the expansion of the tournament. Depending on how soon a (TV) deal is done, the added teams could start next year. The NCAA confirmed that bidders would be interested in 96 teams, so they're going with it."
In retrospect, I'm not sure why I ever assumed the NCAA wouldn't expand the tournament. It's one of the most illogical, misguided organizations in the land. Of course we should expect them to make the wrong decision.
Granted, an unnamed source saying something is a "done deal" before any deal has been discussed is far from confirmation or a reason to panic. But panic I will. If the NCAA is considering this, its thinking is upside down.
Like I wrote in December, expansion is the worst idea the NCAA has ever had. The reasons haven't changed: The regular season would be rendered even more meaningless, a glut of mediocre-to-bad big-conference schools would reap the benefit and casual fans wouldn't be as interested in filling out a 96-team bracket (too daunting, asymmetrical, wouldn't fit on a regular sheet of paper).
Decisions made solely because of money -- as this would be -- almost never work out. Greed is fine, but only when there's justification and a realistic expectation that it will succeed. The NCAA doesn't seem to care if expansion will be good for the game. All that matters is that it's good for the bottom line. (Ask the ACC how expansion is working out.)
Because this isn't a "done deal" yet, there's still a glimmer of hope that the NCAA will reverse its set course. A quick "NCAA tournament 96" search on Twitter reveals almost universal dislike for the move. Maybe the NCAA will come to its sense. Maybe. But don't count on it.