Sunday, March 7, 2010

NCAA Tournament expansion, obviously, a horrible idea

ON BASKETBALL

I've wondered for a while if it's even worth writing a column about how horrible expanding the Field of 65 would be. After all, every knowledgeable basketball reporter from Spokane to Gainesville has written one.

But then I picked up The Washington Post yesterday, flipped, as I always do, to the sports section and saw, yes, a mock 96-team bracket. To satisfy your curiosity, here are a handful of the included teams -- Wichita State, Northeastern, South Florida, Texas Tech, Georgia, Northwestern, North Carolina and N.C. State.

Gross.

Seriously. There is no possible way even Roy Williams could make the case for his team being included in a tournament that will crown the national champion this year. It'd be an ultimate disgrace to the game. This year, more than any, proves the point that 65 teams is plenty -- no more are needed. The class of "bubble" teams is so weak, a few will be included in the tournament who don't deserve to stand on the outskirts of the Dance floor.

And the NCAA is considering expanded the tournament by 31 teams? Outrageous.

But, honestly, the NCAA talking up such an idea doesn't surprise me. What eats at my basketball-loving soul is the fact that hordes of college coaches support the idea. Here are coaches who have been around the sport for decades and seen how popular it's become and what a great spectacle March Madness is ... and they want to, basically, ruin it.

They talk about doing what's right for the game and the sport, yet they don't realize that a 96-team field would water down the regular season so much that no casual fan would care about a game featuring ranked teams in January. Heck, no casual fan would pay attention to the sport until early March. As it stands, that's still somewhat the case, but not to such an extreme. A 96-team tournament would render the regular season meaningless to Joe Bob from Iowa.

Not only that, but the tournament would reek of stale first-round games. And teams would get byes. You can't call a tournament format in which some teams play less games the best solution. Never. Not when an equal-games bracket already exists.

And, of course, the bracket wouldn't be as appealing to millions of everyday cubicle workers across the country.

I mean, I could go on and on with reasons as to why this is the worst idea since trans fats. But everything's been said, every college hoops sage has put it out there. Yet the idea is still afloat, and certain coaches won't back down.

Syracuse and Maryland have both had great seasons. They're both going to enter the NCAA Tournament with high expectations. Yet Jim Boeheim and Gary Williams, respectively, support tournament expansion. They've missed the field of 65 in recent years and didn't like it.

Well, too bad. As John Calipari said, "play better." He's right. The tournament shouldn't be easy to make. Qualifying for it should be a privilege, should be something that's celebrated like we see this time of the year from every conference tournament. If the field had 96 teams, there wouldn't be magic anymore. Teams would make it, take it for granted, lose and call it an unsuccessful season.

And most importantly, dozens of unqualified teams would get a chance to play in the prestigious event after poor seasons, muddying programs' expectations and, well, confusing just about everyone.

Is the NCAA Tournament perfect? No, nothing is. But it's damn close.

Just ask anyone who truly cares about the well-being of college hoops (and not just their job security).

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