The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is one of the biggest sporting events in the calendar year. While the system has worked nearly flawlessly over its 70 year history, some coaches are pulling for an expansion in the number of teams.
"What I propose, is that you combine the two properties and come up with a field of 96" says Mike Krzyzewski. He also added "It puts value on the regular season. I think it would upgrade everything."
Expansion of the tournament isn't a bad idea. A greater pool of teams would create an even bigger event than the tournament already is.
But I would propose a different scenario.
I would remove the automatic bids from the conference tournaments. The tournament's overall talent is diminished each year by these automatic bids.
There are 31 conferences that are awarded automatic bids. These include premier leagues such as the ACC, Big East, Big 12, among others, that annually send potential Final Four and National Championship teams into the field.
However, conferences such as the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the Big Sky, and the Southland Conference are all also awarded automatic bids. These conferences don't have nearly the talent of the other power conferences.
These teams end up facing early, embarrassing defeat.
In the 2009 Tournament, Chattanooga was awarded an automatic bid after winning the Southern Conference Tournament. They were eliminated in the first round by No. 1 seed UCONN by 56 points.
Chattanooga wasn't the only one to exit early.
I compiled a list of 20 small conference schools that received automatic bids for the 2009 NCAA Tournament. Of those 20, three teams were victorious in the opening round.
By removing automatic bids, you then remove the mediocre teams, and you add in deserving teams that can actually make something of themselves in the tournament.
I believe this makes the tournament much more competitive, with no easy first round match-ups. Teams won't have the pleasure of facing teams like Chattanooga or Radford in the first round. Instead, they'll have to take on teams like Penn State, who won the 2009 NIT.
This also works towards Coach K's logic. Teams will have a better chance of making the tournament even if they put up sub-par regular seasons.
This season, teams like UNC and UCONN are both on the bubble, and they could be bursting soon. With my proposed format, UNC and UCONN would most likely still make their way into the tournament. We all know these teams are still formidable and can take down anyone in the country.
So, while the media and coaches are barking up a storm about expanding the tournament, lets look for a different solution. One that won't add or subtract the number of teams, but one that will increase the competitiveness and overall talent of the tournament.