Imagine this: 65 teams battling for a shot to call themselves national champions. Not to mention, the fanfare that couples with nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat watching, wall-to-wall entertainment that is the "big dance".
Now, take a deep breath and ask yourself, "Is there any need to change a traveling month long festival that entertains an entire nation?"
Believe it or not, while Northern Iowa was upsetting top seeded Kansas in the second round of the tournament, NCAA Athletic Directors, school presidents, and media members across the country were buzzing about one word: expansion.
Is there really a dire need for expansion? No, absolutely not. Then again, if your hands are reaching for the revenue that March Madness brings, your opinion might differ.
Tournament expansion from 65 teams, to 96, would not only widen the talent gap between the haves and have not’s, but also water down the overall product of the NCAA tournament.
Sure, everyone of us likes the big time upset, such as Northern Iowa beating No. 1 seed Kansas, but with expansion in mind, the opening round games will feature middle-of-the-road matchups like Murray State and Wofford, or St. John's versus Northwestern. Not to mention—the top eight seeds will receive a first round bye.
Then again, a counter argument could be, "Expansion will lead to more Cinderella stories, and fans will be more inclined to follow the dramatic road to the final four." However, one can just look at this year’s "big dance," and see what a true underdog can do.
While sports talk radio shows across the country built up the buzz about the potential expansion for 2011, basketball fans were taking in a true sight to see. Upsets and overtime thrillers bombarded the opening rounds of the tournament.
Perennial powerhouse Georgetown fell to the Ohio Bobcats, a squad that won only seven conference games and finished the regular season ninth in the MAC conference.
Old Dominion tossed aside the unlucky Notre Dame Irish, despite numerous last-second prayers.
To find the beauty in the NCAA tournament, look no further than St. Mary's and Cornell. Both schools won their conference championships to earn an automatic bid; however, neither team was given much accreditation for surviving past the opening round. Cornell and St. Mary's not only lived to fight another day, but both squads made it to the sweet 16. Although, once the going got tough, the top-tier programs flexed their muscles and booted both sleepers out of the "madness."
The "Big Dance" separates the haves from the have nots. By expanding the tournament, more and more lower level schools will earn a bid. The results on the court will determine who the biggest dog on the block is.
In the end, the NCAA Tournament produces quality entertainment that is easy on the eyes and heartwarming to the soul. Tell me, how many of you were thinking about Butler and comparing the Bulldogs run this March to the movie "Hoosiers"? Ya, okay so it was not just me.
With 65 teams in the tournament already, the excitement is at its' peak, and the entertainment from a viewers perspective is off the charts. So, why do so many feel the need to expand? Let this story play out, and sit back and enjoy the madness, year after year.
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