Expanding the field to 96? No, Thanks.
The recent successes of mid-majors (like Northern Iowa, St. Mary's and Cornell), in combination with the parity amongst conferences in the Sweet 16 (16 teams are represented by 11 conferences) have once again heated up the talk of expanding the NCAA Tournament field of 96. But where is the need for tournament expansions? More revenue for more colleges and universities? More hopes and dreams coming true for collegiate student-athletes? Accounting for all of the best teams across the country? Seeing more "Cinderella's" succeed and thus mid-majors could compete on a level playing field?
The NCAA is mulling the inane idea of expanding March Madness so that first and foremost, the NCAA can grub more money out of their television contract, but colleges, universities and conferences as a whole can benefit monetarily with expansion as well. Why change what works? More isn't always better, especially in this case.
Selection Sunday will be unbearably longer, as will filling out your brackets for your office pool, tournaments with your friends and family members. There is some sort of pride in finding your team amongst the competitive field of 65. Coaches and teams mark down pre-season goals and checklists, almost all of which include "Make the NCAA Tournament", if not further for some teams. Watering down the field to include an additional 31 teams seems to be a quite ridiculous. Sure, some teams gets left out of the field each year, but that should necessitate the idea of bettering yourself and your Tournament resume. For example, the Virginia Tech Hokies made quite a case for themselves to secure an at-large ticket to March Madness, but were left on the outside looking in. On the surface, Virginia Tech seemed qualified: 23-8 overall record and a winning record (10-7) in a power conference (ACC). But after further investigation, the Hokies would be better suited playing in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT), which is owned and operated by the NCAA, but is regarded as a second-tier postseason compared to the NCAA Tournament. Instead of preparing for the rigors of ACC play with an array of challenging teams, Virginia Tech played the third easiest non-conference schedule in the nation. That's right. Despite the fact VT went 12-1 in their 13-game schedule out-of-conference, they ranked 344 out of 347 Division I teams (overall record of non-conference opponents:180-259, .410, or 79 games below .500). A loss in the opening round of the ACC Tournament only confirmed the NCAA's Selection Committee's beliefs that Virginia Tech does not belong. On the other hand, the North Carolina, Tar Heels a preseason favorite to win it all, challenged themselves with a difficult non-conference schedule, featuring Ohio State, Syracuse, Kentucky and Texas; three of those teams spent at least one week ranked as the nation's number one team this season. However, UNC struggled against these teams, and continued their lackluster play throughout the ACC schedule, posting an overall record of 18-16, 5-11 in the conference. So if the likes of Virginia Tech and North Carolina amongst others do not belong this year, in a year when the bubble was considered extremely soft, why should they belong in the future? Why would we water down one of the greatest tournament in all of sports?
College football has more than half of its teams playing in the postseason (68 out of 120 teams make it). The NCAA field is dramatically more selective (65 of 347 teams) and therefore, the cream of the crop will play for the chance at a national title. Other teams, like Virginia Tech and North Carolina, have a chance to compete for lower-end titles because they simply have not earned the chance to compete for a National Title.
Imagine having lower-tier teams like Virginia Tech and North Carolina in the field this year. They are simply not deserving and should build towards competing for a Title in the future. These teams can mark down "Make the NCAA Tournament" on their off-season and preseason checklists for next year and attempt to accomplish their goals in a competitive field of 65. That's the way to go.
By Corey Ruff - President - 3-23-10