The best and most exciting sporting competition in this country is seriously considering expansion. The NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship seems to have support for expansion from the NCAA, as well as many D-I head coaches, to expand the 65-team field to a total of 96 teams.
This would be a mistake. That is too many teams.
After the Super Bowl, the NCAA Division I tournament is as close to a national holiday as any sporting even can get. Why fix something that isn’t broken?
In perhaps one of the weaker 65-team fields in recent memory, extending the field to 96 teams is an act that would hurt the tournament’s credibility. March Madness is a championship event, designed to have the best teams in the country vie for a national title, and similarly, only the best teams in the nation should be invited. Adding 32 more teams, two more whole rounds to this tournament, would dilute an already strong solution.
While the NCAA tournament does have a history of expansion, the NCAA has never added more than 16 teams to the field. In 1985, when the tournament was expanded to the widely successful 64-team field, only 11 more teams were added from the previous year’s 53-team field. This sudden influx of teams is not the standard the NCAA has created for the history of this tournament.
However, there are always two sides to a debate and many different people to please.
While I believe that an expansion that includes creating a 96-team field would be detrimental to the tournament’s credibility, some expansion could help the tournament's success, as well as please the coaches and the NCAA.
Adding seven more teams, creating a 72-team field, could benefit March Madness.
Implementing four play-in games to determine each No. 16 seed would help ease some of the tension that has lead to ideas of expansion. This kind of augmentation on the tournament’s field would allow for more at-large bids, leading to more quality teams in the field. Teams from the weakest of conferences, or teams who just got hot in their conference tournament, would not be taking the place of a team who performed well all season, but was unable to clinch their automatic bid.
There would be less legitimate snubs, and for once, a No. 16 seed would have a win under their belt. No No. 16 seed has ever knocked off a No. 1 seed, but in a 72-team field, each No. 16 seed would already have played a game and won. This is a much more favorable tournament experience than most No. 16 seeds get, showing up, taking a beating, and going home.
This type of expansion would not change the traditional 65-team field that everyone loves. These four play-in games would in no way affect the traditional schedule or seeding of the Madness tournament, it would only determine the four teams seeded at No. 16. It would only allow for more competition, amongst those teams deserving a shot at the title. The NCAA would get what they want, the coaches would get what they want, and the fans would still have their beloved March tournament, just with a little added interest.