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Time to Expand

by Bo Ryan (Wisconsin)

Expansion.

It’s not a new discussion point among college basketball coaches, but it’s gotten more attention in the days and weeks since the 2006 Final Four. It all centers on the question of whether or not the NCAA tournament field should be expanded?

In my opinion -- Yes.

For many this has become a more talked-about issue in light of George Mason’s run to the Final Four. The premise being that Jim Larranaga’s team could have been left out of the field and thus their run to Indianapolis is proof that deserving teams may not have a chance to compete in the tournament.

It’s a good point. However I have believed that expansion was necessary long before George Mason’s run.

Let’s take a look at the landscape that is college football. Under the current format, about 50% of the programs at the division I level participate in postseason. Having a successful season and be invited to a bowl game has helped to extend, if not help secure jobs for many coaches.

And how about all the players that had an opportunity to play in a bowl game and the fans that have another game to watch in December. It’s great for everyone involved.

However the percentage is must different for college basketball coaches.

Of the over 325 division I programs, just 65 participate in the NCAA tournament. That’s less then 20%. If you want to add the NIT, which is reducing its field back down to 32 invitations, you still have less then 30% involved in postseason play.

College basketball’s popularity continues to soar and it has long been the cash cow for the NCAA. Therefore it makes no sense that the field has only expanded by one program in 15 years, while the membership has increased by one-third.

From 1975-1978 there were 32 teams invited to the NCAA tournament. In 1979 the field was expanded to 40 teams and a year later it was expanded again to 48 teams. Again the following year the field was increased to allow 52 teams to participate and in 1985 it was expanded to 64.

In less then 20 years the field had doubled, but since 1985 there have been over 100 new division I members and yet only one additional bid has been added and that was to accommodate the split of the Western Athletic Conference into the Mountain West and new-look WAC.

Over 100 new members and only one additional team in the tournament makes little or sense at all.

Whenever the idea of change is brought up there are always many that ask questions like, “how will it work” or “how will the game survive?”

A little over a decade ago there was a big uproar when Major League Baseball announced the advent of the “Wild Card.” I remember people saying it would be the game’s demise. The introduction of a three-division system and four teams from each league in the postseason has worked out pretty well for baseball.

It’s been nothing but win-win for MLB so it only stands to reason that nothing but positives could come from expanding the NCAA men’s basketball tournament field.

While I have no problems with a bowl eligible team getting an invite to postseason with a 6-5 record, I do find fault with a team that goes 18-12 on the basketball court and gets no postseason reward. Aside from the obvious -- that it would help prolong many coaching careers -- it would be great for the players involved and the fans that support this cash cow.

There is so much good then could come from expanding the field. It’s just a simple matter of sitting down at the table and making it happen.

As a fraternity we need to band together and push the issue. It’s not a matter of whether or not it can be done. It’s time that we do what’s right and expand again. 

 
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