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Saturday, March 13, 2010

No Thanks, we're mad enough already

All season, and particularly as the NCAA Tournament looms ahead, there have been talks about expanding the field of the tournament. Some say 68--rounding out to four play-in games--while other are saying jumping to 96 teams is the way to go. I could be amenable to the former; to the latter, I say no, no, and hell no.

While the real impetus is clearly money, the stated justification behind expanding the field is that there are deserving teams that aren't given the opportunity to compete in the NCAA tournament. I call shenanigans. Currently, there are 347 D-I schools. Right now, 314 of those have a legitimate play-in opportunity through a conference tournament. 20 of the 31 auto-qualifying conferences send all of their teams to the conference tournament (the Great West doesn't get an auto-bid, leaving its teams to fend for themselves) and even in the most restrictive conference tournaments, at least the top 2/3 of conference teams head to the postseason. What this says to me is that no one deserving a shot is denied access to one; winning a conference tournament is an automatic ticket in. If you want to look at teams trying to take advantage of this opportunity, note that as I write this, the bottom two seeds in the ACC tournament--the 11th and 12th best teams in the conference--are still alive in the semifinals.

Should the field expand, I fear that the emphasis won't be placed in ensuring a second team from America East or SoCon, but rather an 8th, 9th, or 10th team from the Big East or ACC. Let's take a look at last year's NIT, probably the best predictor of who those next 32 teams would be. Fifteen of them were Big Six conference schools, while an additional five were from the A-10 and Mountain West, both of which were multi-bid leagues in the NCAA tournament last year. Another five got automatic bids to the NIT by winning their regular season conference championship but failing to win their tournament, leaving just seven spots for the "little guys" who didn't otherwise earn it.

Would there be more possibilities for thrilling upsets? Probably. But you've got that with #11 NC State taking out #3 FSU, or #8 Georgetown knocking off #1 Syracuse. Leave that to the conference tournament and keep the NCAA Tournament--the most wonderful time of the year--as it is.
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