By now, you have probably heard of the proposal to expand the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament to 96 teams. While this proposal is not “official” as of this time, by all accounts, it has been agreed upon and is a done deal. This doesn’t sit too well with yours truly.The NCAA Tournament, in its current form, is about as good as it gets in sports.
The NCAA Tournament, in and of itself, is the single greatest argument for the college football playoff and the abolition of the horrid Bowl Championship Series. That is, teams actually settle it on the court (or field, if you want to look at it from a football perspective) rather than in computers and the Interwebs. There is drama, there are underdogs, and most importantly, there is always an undisputed national champion. Now, to be fair, none of this would change as the result of a 96 tournament. In my opinion however, the spectacle that is the NCAA tournament would get watered down. Upsets and Cinderellas, under this new plan, would likely become less and less frequent, a troubling fact to a fan like me.
More troubling is that 31 more, mostly non-deserving teams, will get into the tournament. Heck, this year, there are not even 65 deserving teams. As much as it pains me to say this, my Illini and their 18-13 record don’t deserve to be anywhere near the NCAA Tournament; yet, many projections still have them firmly on the bubble, if not in the tournament.
Let’s pretend, for argument’s sake, that the NCAA Tournament would be expanded to 96 teams this year. Besides the aforementioned Illinois, what other teams might be looking at bids? Without doing in-depth research, here are a few teams I came up with that would be likely candidates:
- Dayton: possesses a 19-11 overall record and an 8-8 record in Atlantic 10 conference play, good for seventh in the conference. They would still get into the expanded tournament despite losing 5 of their last 6 in an admittedly good, but not great, A-10.
- North Carolina: the holders of a 16-15 record overall, and a 5-11 record in a below-average ACC. They would be a possibility in a field of 96 because of some impressive non-conference victories.
- UConn: like North Carolina, another big name school, boasts a 17-14 record overall and a 7-11 record in Big East play. Despite being a true model of inconsistency, this team would get in, with bad losses like Michigan and Providence, among others, not mattering.
- Tulsa: 21-10 overall, 10-6 in a very mediocre Conference USA, good for only fifth place. I’m sorry, but even in an expanded tournament, there shouldn’t be five teams from a mediocre C-USA in it. But this team would probably get in, hanging its hat on one good victory: Oklahoma State.
- Mississippi State: 21-10 overall, 9-7 in a very average SEC. While 20 wins from a power conference such as the SEC passes the “eye test” – a closer look at MSU shows that they really aren’t that good. Unless something unforeseen happens in conference tourneys, they will have one win – one! – over an NCAA Tournament qualifying team. Not good enough for the field of 65, but plenty good enough for a field of 96.
Suddenly, Illinois doesn’t look quite so bad anymore (FYI: they have four RPI top 25 wins, their only argument to getting into the tournament.) The bottom line is this: an expanded tournament will more than likely bring bad basketball. And, quite frankly, there is no place for bad basketball in the NCAA Tournament. A 96 team tournament means a watered-down tournament, and that’s not something I want to see. Sadly, it looks like I’ll have to accept it.