The Non-BCS Conferences Need To Work Together For a Better Tourney Deal

Tobi WritesAnalyst IApril 21, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS - APRIL 05:  Shevlin Mack #1 of the Butler Bulldogs greets his teammates during player introductions against the Duke Blue Devils during the 2010 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 5, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Since Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany proclaimed the NCAA tournament would likely expand to 96 teams a load of information has come out as to what it might look like and why it may be coming into affect.

At the core of the movement to 96 teams is a desire by the elite conferences to keep the NCAA tournament continuing to producing revenue for those elite schools.

To that end, the elite NEED the tournament to expand.  Now is the time for the non-elite conferences to work together to get a much better position in the new 96 team tourney than they have in today's 64 team tourney.  Otherwise it is entirely likely they will see their position erode even further.

There are a number of goals they should consider pursuing.  Some of those goals may actually be achievable if they work together now.

Expansion may be more of a have to than a want to

News of the expansion has outraged most NCAA Tourney purists who don't understand why the NCAA would "water down" their tourney.

The assumption those fans are making is that this is a "want to" move and not a "have to" move.

They ask, "With CBS on the hook for $2.1B over the next 3 years, why is the NCAA considering using their opt out ahead of the August 31st deadline?"   The public answers appear to be because ESPN slapped the NCAA with silly money for the BCS football bowl games last year - $495M over 4 years - and seems interested in the NCAA tourney as well and that the athletic and university leadership at the NCAA's individual members are pushing the NCAA down that path.  

The first motivation suggests that the NCAA feels a bidding war might emerge with ESPN and Fox challenging CBS for the rights to March Madness, making the NCAA's next deal worth as much or more than the value in the last 3 years of their existing contract, but over a much longer period.  (The rumours are the NCAA wants a 14 year deal with the option of opting out at any time. Talk about having your cake and eating it too...)

The second is based off a mixture of self-interest as BCS conference coaches hope to improve their job security, fair play advocates who want to get the non-BCS schools less of a bad deal, and people who understand college basketball who want to see a much improved field of 64 teams - even if they have to expand to 96 to get it.

It does seem like the real underlying factor however may be the economy.  CBS is probably OK with the NCAA opting out as it allows them to renegotiate what appears on the surface to be a very toxic deal.  Like everything else in sports these days there is an element of financial whiplash from a soft economy.

The current CBS TV deal was heavily back loaded.  CBS was paying a much lesser  amount for the NCAA Tourney up to this year, but even at that rate the report they have to give to the NCAA each year showed the network lost money last year

Now they are scheduled to pay a much larger amount (reportedly an average of $710M per year) for the last 3 years of the contract.  This is in a very soft economy that is still built off smoke and mirrors and due to inaction by congress still has the same troubles it had when George Bush was in office.  In other words, an economy that could get a lot worse pretty quickly.

CBS probably needs a number of concessions including the deal being sweetened with more broadcastable content on new days, the tourney having deep national interest longer, and the payments divided out over a longer term in a more manageable fashion to not lose money.  They need a pathway to getting back into the black.

It seems very unlikely that the NCAA gets their money without expansion of the tourney field...unless they are willing to potentially damage their relationship with CBS and force the network to honor a deal that would have the network losing a lot of money for the next 3 years.

The existing structure doesn't likely help anyone.  It doesn't help the NCAA's future negotiations if their last network suffers a long awkward financial bleed.  That could make the next round of bids on the tourney much lower with one less bidder and as bidders could be much more weary about potentially getting stuck in a similar toxic deal with the NCAA.

Athletic programs do not like the idea of a drop in incoming revenue...ever.  It is far better for universities to see a more consistent uphill slope where they can count on annual increases.  Additionally it is reasonable to expect some decisions at BCS schools might have been already been made expecting a fairly substantial increase in basketball revenue next year.

The goal on CBS's side appears to be to have the NCAA add another round of 32 games and then to partner with another network (TBS) allowing their partner to split the costs.

The end result?  CBS potentially gets a couple more days of high ratings to use to generate revenue, probably get to push the years of $700M payouts down the road a number of years, and can use the added games to get a partner to take half of the costs.  The NCAA gets more money and get that higher rate over a longer term and theoretically the big conferences are able to continue to game the system to take home as good of a percentage of the total revenue as they do today, if not more.

It should be noted that the proposal that seems to be being pushed by the NCAA adds the games on Tuesday and Wednesday rather than on another weekend.  That could have more value to cable channels that don't generally develop weekday content.

The Haves

There are six conferences that receive automatic bids to participate in the BCS bowl games.  They are the Pac-10, the Big Ten, The ACC, The Big 12, The Big East, and the SEC.

(Technically the argument put forth by the BCS elite is that all conferences at the FBS level of competition have bought into the BCS status quo and as such are all "BCS conferences", but public perception has doggedly affixed the label "BCS conference" to those six conferences that automatically qualify for BCS bowls.  For this article I will go with this publicly accepted convention of "BCS conferences" and "non-BCS conferences" as it both clarifies the basketball argument better and will also make the discussion much easier for the average fan to follow.)

These six "BCS conferences" not only dominate the revenue in football, but also in basketball.  There are 73 member institutions in those conferences who work together to hoard as much of the collegiate sports broadcasting revenue as possible.

This alliance may be somewhat dysfunctional in football, but in basketball all 73 members are on the same page.  The current tournament is heavily stacked in their favor and there seems little momentum to change that status quo.

The BCS conferences accounted for 32 of the 65 teams in this year's field, 36 in last year's field, and 34 the year before.  Over the last 5 years, the BCS conferences have averaged just under 34 teams in the field or 52% of the field on opening day.

The Have nots

There are 32 conferences at the Division I level in basketball. The other 26 non-BCS conferences and the small number of unaffiliated independent schools at the DI level amount to the have nots.

In spite of having 275 of the NCAA's 348 basketball playing members (79%), these conferences have on average only landed 31 teams into the 65 team field over the last 5 years.

Haves vs. Have nots

Based on the last five years, the odds of making the NCAA tourney each year as a member of the BCS conferences is about 46.5%.  Yes, you read that right.  BCS schools have almost a 50% chance they will end the season in the NCAA tourney!

Non-BCS schools have about an 11.2% chance of making the tournament or a little over a 1 in 10 shot.

And it just gets more stilted from there.

I wrote an article a month ago that dealt with the NCAA Tourney money grab among other things.  A couple of sections dovetail in nicely so I have pulled them into this article.

How the money grab works

To understand the money grab, you need to understand how the revenue is dispersed. This is a bit of an oversimplification of the revenue division system (as it glosses over the fact that the money is paid out over a multi-year period to ease the amount of fluctuation of revenue) , but it does provide a basic understanding of the process.

Although there is some money pulled off the top, a big chunk of the NCAA tournament revenue is dispersed to conferences based on a "merit" system. 

Every team that makes the tourney receives one share for their conference good for 1/127th of that main chunk of the NCAA Tourney basketball revenue.  Each March Madness win gives their conference one more share of the tournament TV money. 

Most non-BCS conferences' representatives end up seeded at 12th to 16th seeds, behind the scrub bubble teams of the BCS conferences.  This low seeding immediately puts those champions up against one of the top 20 teams in the country.

The BCS scrub schools who are seated higher may be totally incapable of winning three games in a row (and if they can't do that why are they really in the field?), but they are usually more physically talented than the small conference champions and with four days can often win a first round game, eliminating some of the small conference teams that get a reasonable seed.

This combination of factors allows the BCS conferences usually take home twice as many shares in the first round and sometimes the second as maybe they should.

While in the grand scheme of things a non-BCS champion UNT and BCS also ran who made the tourney like Florida from last season may actually be similar caliber teams.  UNT was more experienced and Florida was taller and more skilled last year. 

The BCS schools want their bubble teams having the chance to win those five vs. 12, six vs. 11, seven vs. 10, and eight vs. nine match-ups rather than seeing the CAA, MVC, MAC, CUSA, or Big Sky Conference runner up matched against another non-BCS conference member.

Why? Because in a match-up between two non-BCS conference member schools, there is a 100% chance that a non-BCS conference is going to take home another of the NCAA tourney shares.  That is why the BCS conferences spend so much time insisting the mediocre teams from their conference are more deserving of a slot in the tourney than the good teams from non-BCS conferences.

The BCS conferences have gamed the system to get their 4th to 7th place schools  schools into the tourney instead of potentially more deserving candidates from non-BCS conferences.

They have gamed the system to get that BCS riff-raff seeded above top level non-BCS conference champions. 

Non-BCS conference champions and runner ups get pushed down to lower seeds, if they make the tourney at all.

This status quo has schools like UNT getting 15th seeds and served up to the elites (Kansas State this year) in round one.  This has conferences like the Sun Belt, Big Sky, MAC, CAA given a single slot and often forced out with a single share, when there is a legitimate argument that the level of play in their conference merited a better share of the basketball goldmine. 

Here is how the divisible TV  revenue from last year's tourney will be dispersed.

BCS conferences 
Conference shares % of money 
Big East 1612.6%
Big 1612.6%
ACC 1411.0%
Big Ten 1411.0%
SEC 107.9%
Non-BCS conferences
Conference shares % of money 
Mountain West 64.7%
Horizon 64.7%
Atlantic 53.9%
WCC 53.9%
Ivy 32.4%
MVC 32.4%
CUSA 21.6%
WAC 21.6%
Colonial 21.6%
MAC 21.6%
Ohio Valley 21.6%
SWAC 10.8%
America East 10.8%
Atlantic Sun 10.8%
Big Sky 10.8%
Big South 10.8%
Big West 10.8%
MAAC 10.8%
MEAC 10.8%
Northeast 10.8%
Patriot 10.8%
Southern 10.8%
Southland 10.8%
Summit 10.8%
Sun Belt10.8%

The only way conferences like those that have gotten a lot better at basketball will see an appropriate opportunity to earn multiple shares is if they band together today to leverage their numbers to steer the tournament towards reform.

The TV networks and the BCS schools need an expanded tourney to keep the flow of golden eggs coming. They need the non-BCS schools to go along with the idea.  The non-BCS schools have not had this kind of leverage to bring about this potential kind of change in the last few decades.

(You can read more about Tournament revenue dispersal here.)

The current proposal

Currently it appears that the NCAA is looking at a proposal that would add 32 more teams but would squeeze that added round in to the current time span, completing the tourney in 3 weeks.   They appear ready to do this by adding a 3rd set of games to be played on Tuesday and Wednesday in the second week.  This is leading to a lot of academic backlash as players would potentially miss a week of school, but it still appears to be the plan.

Rivals theorized what the field would look like.  That analysis should give the non-BCS conferences a real reason to rally together. It had 45 of the 96 bids going to BCS conferences (ie. 62% of their membership getting in) and 51 bids going to the non-BCS schools (just under 19%). 

On the surface, that looks like a much better shake, but what Rivals suggests would happen is that former basketball power conferences CUSA and the Atlantic 10 would essentially join the haves consuming 13 of those 51 non-BCS slots, leaving the remaining 24 conferences and the independents (249 schools) to share those remaining 38 slots (odds of making the tourney = 15%).

Plus keep in mind that is a projection that had the Pac-10 only getting 3 teams into the field.  The more likely numbers would have the BCS with at least 3 more teams in  (66% of their membership) and probably 35 teams from the lower 24 conferences and the independents (14% odds of making the tourney).

Those 24 conferences and the independents landed 28 teams in the field this year (11%) with a 64 team field, so the net gain for them of 7 additional teams is a pretty crappy deal for them.

"Ideal" scenarios for the Non-BCS conferences

A popular idea with most of the non-BCS conferences is to allow the conference champion and the tournament champions of each conference into the tournament

Even though some influential BCS Conference people like Duke Coach Mike Kryzewski favor this proposal, it seems unlikely to be accepted.

The idea would fill many of the slots with non-BCS schools.  The 26 non-BCS conferences would have guaranteed slots that could land as many as 52 teams into the 96 team field.  With the large handful of at large bids in a 96 team field that number could legitimately hit the high 50's, leaving the BCS schools with 36-40 bids.

That idea will probably never fly because the BCS schools (and the fans and TV networks) see no reason to make allowances to potentially expand the number of losing teams from less competitive conferences that earn an opportunity to play in the NCAA Tourney.  

The BCS schools have a winning argument against this setup and that will allow them to protect the 45-50+ bid neighborhood they probably hope to end up with.

The BCS schools rightly feel that they have already made allowances that give bad conferences the right to prop up ill conceived and poorly supported conference tournaments by allowing non-BCS conferences to send a dog school that scores an upset or two to their conference tourney instead of those non-BCS conferences' more deserving regular season champion.

I cannot conceive of a scenario that would have the principals previously mentioned pushing to change that from an either/or option for a conference.

Non-BCS conferences need to put their best foot forward... like the Ivy League.

It is not enough to complain about a lack of opportunity to get into the NCAA tourney and potentially earn additional shares.

The non-BCS conferences arguments along those lines are largely compromised when they aren't sending their strongest teams with the automatic bids they already possess.

It is entirely self-defeating for most of the non-BCS conferences to waste their bid on a tourney winner instead of their conference champion on a semi-regular basis.  That policy needs to end.  They need to start sending their best team.

The Ivy league sends their regular season champion every year.  This year Cornell earned the Ivy league three shares. 

The entire concept of post season conferences has debatable merit at the low end of Division I. 

The Ivy League has opted not even to play a post-season tourney.

Non-BCS conference tournaments pale in comparison to BCS conferences' tournaments.  Many any barely turn profits. 

The BCS conferences regularly draw over 11,000 fans per game to their post season tourneys. Only 12 of the 26 non-BCS conferences averaged over 4000 fans in attendance per game at their post season tourneys.

Conferences like the NEC, the SWAC, the Southland, the Patroit, the Big South, the Big West, the Atlantic Sun, the America East, the Big Sky, the So-Con, the Ohio Valley, the Sun Belt, the Summit, and the Horizon should seriously weigh the merits of continuing to play conference tournaments.  

There are several options that non-BCS conferences could investigate to put themselves in a better situation.

If conferences want to keep their tournaments to attempt to grow fan enthusiasm, maybe they should eliminate the conference champion from the field.  Eliminating a single team from the field would not devastate attendance, and if there is no automatic tourney bid for the conference tournament winner, it seems unlikely that such an action could be blocked, or if it was that such a move would stand up to legal scrutiny.

A move like this would increase the odds of the runner up winning the conference tournament. That could increase their odds of making the NCAA tournament as an at large.

If conferences decide to stop having tournaments they could expand on the "bracket busters" games idea.

So what should the non-BCS schools be seeking after they solve this issues that puts them on the wrong side of public sentiment?  What changes should they demand for going along with the opt out, sparing CBS, and agreeing to an expanded field?

Acceptable setups and principles the non-BCS schools should pursue

There are five issues that the non-BCS schools should try to address.

1) They don't get enough bids. 

This seems a difficult issue on which to gain much traction as the BCS Conferences are going to be pretty firm about wanting a system in place that yields 45-50+ bids for BCS schools with almost all of the slots in the top 32 being filled by BCS schools.

Many if not most non-BCS conferences can usually scrape up two teams that have 20+ wins and could legitimately put up a good fight against most teams in the NCAA tourney.  Some of them can put together 3-7 each year.  The non-BCS Conferences can put together 65-75 arguably deserving candidates for a 96 team field.

I think the best the non-Conference schools could hope for is capping the BCS schools at a guarantee of at least 48 schools, but no more than 50, in the tourney each year in exchange for other concessions.  I might open with trying to trade a high number guaranteed each year for other concessions.

But even that may be too difficult because the non-BCS schools would be taking the BCS schools on head on with little public support.  The public thinks the BCS schools are better after all.  A less direct approach with more public support might be the way to attack this problem.

2) No schools should make the tourney unless they fit a certain minimum standards.

This would be the way to achieve goal one without having to "give something back" to the BCS schools.  The biggest problem purists have with expansion amounts to an expectation that teams with losing records will be admitted to the tourney right and left.

Taking a stance as protectors of the integrity of the tournament would likely be a winning position for the non-BCS schools.

Losing non-BCS schools aren't going to be invited in as at-large teams.  Any losing schools will be from BCS conferences.

So really the fans would back the non-BCS schools against BCS schools if they pushed for minimum standards for admission to the tourney that would cap losing BCS schools from getting in.

I think insisting that any at-large school win 2/3 of their games and finish over .500 in conference would have wide fan support and could be rammed into the rules powered by strong public sentiment... if non-BCS schools were willing to stop sending crappy tournament winners.

If non-BCS schools are not willing to do that, the best they might  achieve is that schools must have winning records overall.  Obviously it is in non-BCS schools best interest to concede the admission for tournament winners issue and push for higher standards as it frees more spots for non-BCS schools who can actually win a tourney game.

Laying out sensible bottom line guidelines for team selection is a battle non-BCS schools should be fighting.

3) Non-BCS schools should continue to earn the same NCAA Tourney shares as BCS schools for making the tournament.

The system is set up now with 127 shares (126+1 for team 65).  If you expand the field to 96 instead of 65, you add another 31 teams ( presumably all with a share for making the tournament). 

If the games to get to a 64 team field are all treated as "play in games" using the existing convention with no share awarded to those winners, that would be  (127+ 31 = ) 158 shares.

That potentially would reduce the share for non-BCS conferences who only get one school in from 0.79% to 0.63% of the total revenue. 

If the BCS revenue does not increase that much, it could work out to be a cut in the money received by the single representative non-BCS conferences.

Now with 32 winners in the first round, there could be movement to give those 32 winners a share, increasing the share total to 190 shares, further reducing the payout to the one and done conferences to 1/190th or 0.53% of total divided revenue.

With the top 32 teams in America earning first round byes, that begs the question will those teams earning a bye continue to only get 1 share automatically for making the tourney?  In that scenario, a non-BCS team like Tulsa who might be seeded between 33-96 could earn 5 shares in a run to the Final Four- one more than a top 32 BCS conference team like Michigan State that did the same.

It is difficult to see the BCS conferences (who had 24 of the top 32 teams last year) agreeing to that kind of arrangement that would at least partially punish the BCS schools for doing well.

Will The BCS conferences insist seeds 33-96 only earn "half shares" for making the tournament? 

Another possibility is that the BCS conferences could insist the pool be divided into 222 shares with teams with byes getting two shares for being in the top 32 - one for making the tournament and one "moving on" to the second round, cutting the one and done conferences's shares to 0.45% of total revenue.

The BCS Conferences will argue the better teams should pick up added bonus shares or schools 33-96 should get half shares, but both scenarios clearly stilt the payouts even farther in the BCS Conferences' favor. 

If the non-BCS conferences aren't organized, the bottom tier non-BCS conferences like the Sun Belt, Southland, and SWAC could find that rather than taking home 1/127th of the pool after a rigged bad match-up like they are today, they may be taking home 1/222th of the money for their one and done.

I would argue that the best revenue division scheme to chose would be setting the first round as a play in round with no reward for winning.  That keeps the share total at 158 and gives the best possible payout to 1 and done conferences. 

4) The Great West should be grandfathered in to get an automatic tourney bid today.

This may seem like a waste of leverage, but really it isn't. This entire movement should be about equal opportunity for non-BCS members.  How can you have that when one conference doesn't have an automatic bid to the tourney?

If you are going to push for fair treatment, it makes a lot of sense to not look hypocritical. 

Plus there are more practical reasons. The growth of Division I  increases the leverage of the non-BCS block.

If the Great West agreed to admit any school in Division I that needed a home for basketball membership (as well as any school they want to invite) it would ease stress at a lot of universities and open the door to needed membership increases, especially in the West where it could be a financial benefit to regionally dispersed western members.

The Great West basketball could be the conference equivalent of a catchall mailbox ensuring that everyone in DI gets a fair shake and new members have a home from which to try to grow into a strong DI member.

5) Non-BCS champions should be seeded higher than run of the mill BCS bubble teams.

Finally, and most perhaps most importantly, the non-BCS schools should push for a change in the seeding methodology that would yield better seedings for non-BCS conference champions.  Last season only 8 of the non-BCS schools were seeded 8th or higher and that was a 5 year high. (Six is the average over the last five years.)

This amounts to theft.

It is pretty clear that schools like Cornell, Murray State, and Saint Mary's that went on runs were seated too low and I'd argue that a lot of conference champions like UNT, Robert Morris, Sam Houston State, and others that had to play 2 or 3 seeds in the tournament's first day were also seeded too low.  And that happens every year.

I would push for the 8 top rated non-BCS conference champions to be guaranteed an 8th seed or higher and a first round bye.

Most years that would be the champions of the MWC, A-10, CUSA, WAC, WCC, CAA, MAC, & Horizon.  Those schools are often the architects of the nine eight, 10 7, 11 six, and 12 five upsets.

No college basketball fan disputes that year in and year out the best team from those conferences can beat the 4th or 5th seed from a BCS conference in the tournament, so why not formalize it and finally seed these teams correctly?

Even the small conference champions should be given a lot more respect.  The idea that even in 96 team tourney the Sun Belt's regular season AND tournament champion might be seeded as the 91st team in the tourney as they were in the Rival mock-up should infuriate the small conferences. 

There is no reason a sub 20 win 6th place BCS dog should be seeded over a twice proven conference champion.  None.

Non-BCS conferences need to fight for this.

There are very compelling arguments there to curry public and peer support.

Making it happen.  Forming alliances

One of the key groups pushing this thing are the coaches at BCS conferences at the middle to the bottom of the conference.  These guys want to see a reward for playing in a tough conference.  Their thought is that if the Tourney expands to 96, at least 18 of those 32 new slots will go to BCS conference schools allowing a coach who wins as few as 5-6 games in a BCS conference the ability to still make the tourney as an at- large team and leverage that bid to keep his job.

The argument by guys like Minnesota's Tubby Smith is that it will keep more coaches in general employed, but the reality is that non-BCS schools don't generally fire their coaches after they win 20 games and get passed over by the NCAA tournament selection committee. 

The NIT could potentially be put out of business by this expansion.  The NIT may be a shell of it's former self, but it still has a lot of influential advocates who are greatly disturbed by the idea that the NCAA may put the NIT out of business.  The NIT could be a good partner. 

The NIT has a number of advocates in the non-BCS ranks like Vermont Coach Mike Lonergan who said, "The worst thing for our level would be if they expand it, don't help us at all and then they take the NIT away... That would really hurt us."

The question with the NIT, is how much juice do they have?

TV networks could be the best ally for the non-BCS schools.  The non-BCS schools would do a lot better if TV had a larger say in the selection process.  TV is not going to be thrilled with a tournament that just looks like part 2 of the Pac-10 or Big 12 tournament.

TV will advocate for the non-BCS giant killer with their unflappable clutch star. It would be better for the non-BCS schools if TV had a big influence on team selection.

Likewise the non-BCS schools could be a powerful alliance pushing from within the NCAA to put the TV networks in a better situation.

Debunking the Watered down tourney argument

AM New York did a nice story covering the percentage of teams in the playoffs.  Simply put, even with 96 teams making the playoffs, the NCAA would still see a lower percentage of it's membership making the playoff field (27.7%) than the NFL, NBA, or NHL and would only be slightly higher than MLB. 

Their field is still going to almost exclusively be made of teams that won over 20 games (the likely exception being the BCS dog schools who find their way in based on strength of schedule overcorrection).

Winning 20 games in college equates to winning about 2/3's of your games.  Would we consider that insufficient in any other sport?

The addition of at least 10-15 non-BCS schools greatly increases the odds that more teams built to go on tournament runs will make the tournament.  Today, many of those schools are squeezed out by BCS conference also-rans.  

There is an element of the argument that frankly borders on the asinine.  The idea being that by letting the selection committee arbitrarily chose 64 teams you will end up with a better field of 64 than if 64 bubble schools played each other for the last 32 slots.

Conventional wisdom about BCS teams being inherently better is out of date

In the past, the argument that fans have put forth for BCS conferences to continue to receive the majority of the tournament bids has been based on the fact that those schools have better talents and therefore better teams.

That simply isn't true anymore.

The NBA has crippled the high end of college basketball. 

It was long understood that big men developed slowly. NBA scouts expected to draft a big guy after 4-5 years of college and they might get a player after 2-3 years in the pros.

Big men aren't developed in college anymore. Athletic big men taller than 6'10" still sign with BCS schools but rarely stay around long enough to develop.

While a school like UNT may have real difficulties landing good players taller than 6'8", the BCS schools can't keep players who are any taller than that.

Non-BCS schools don't have to worry about truly dominant big men who they cannot match up against.  Now the difference is more talent differentials at guard.

This allows an experienced and very solidly built non-BCS school that plays strong defense to make a deep run into the NCAA tourney.

What's more, a non-BCS school that does all those things and has one great talent - like 2008's Davidson team lead by Stephon Curry - has a real shot to make a deep run because often their star is a better closer than most BCS school's stars.

The "Tournament Purists" don't understand that as the non-BCS schools have less star talent they are more reliant on a star player to carry the team every night.  The non-BCS star and his team are far most used to relying on the star to win.

If you expand to 96 you will have at least 3 more non-BCS teams with the right mix of confidence, good defense, good chemistry, a go to star player, and lots of experience who can win 3-4 games in the tourney.  Purists either don't understand the point or refuse to acknowledge it.

Conferences like the WCC, the MWC, the Horizon, and the MAC, are just as capable as the longtime mid-major Atlantic 10 of putting multiple schools into the tourney that have a real shot at deep runs.

Look at Ohio this year.  They beat Georgetown soundly.  Ohio was a run of the mill MAC team.  They went 7-9 in the MAC.  The powers of the MAC this year, 24-10 Kent State and 24-11 Akron didn't even make the tourney!

Look at 2009.  Was there any reason Curry's Davidson team or Patty Mills' St. Mary's team would not have had deep runs in the NCAA tourney?  Both were thrilling, deserving non-BCS teams that were passed over for ho-hum BCS bubble teams.  In a 96 team field both are in.

There are a lot of teams in the non-BCS Conferences who were more than capable of beating a good portion of this year's field.  A 96 team field fixes a lot of that.

Don't buy it?  Check out some of the non-BCS teams that were passed over last year that might have made the field in a 96 team bracket.

The non-BCS bubble schools

There were 43 non-BCS schools who won over 20 games last year and didn't make the NCAA Tournament.  It is ridiculous to me that a team can go 15-3 in conference and not make the post-season tourney.  (To be fair, much of that is due to less respected conferences giving their slots to tourney winners, but still.)

Team Conference record Overall Conference finish
Stony Brook (13-3) 22-10 (AEC #1 seed)
Boston University (11-5) 21-14 (AEC #3t seed)
Saint Louis (11-5) 23-13 (A10 #4 seed)
Rhode Island (9-7) 26-10 (A10 #5t seed)
Dayton (8-8) 25-12 (A10 #7 seed)
Weber State (13-3) 20-11 (Big Sky #1 seed)
Northern Colorado (12-4) 25-8 (Big Sky #2 seed)
Coastal Carolina (15-3) 28-7 (Big South #1 seed)
Pacific (12-4) 23-12 (Big West #2 seed)
Northeastern (14-4) 20-13 (CAA #2 seed)
William & Mary (12-6) 22-11 (CAA #3 seed)
Virginia Commonwealth (11-7) 27-9 (CAA #5 seed)
Memphis (13-3) 24-10 (CUSA #2 seed)
UAB (11-5) 25-9 (CUSA #3 seed)
Marshall (11-5) 24-10 (CUSA #4 seed)
Tulsa (10-6) 23-12 (CUSA #5 seed)
Southern Miss (8-8) 20-14 (CUSA #6 seed)
South Dakota (11-1) 22-10 (GW #1 seed)
Wright State (12-6) 20-12 (Hor #2 seed)
Green Bay (11-7) 22-13 (Hor #3 seed)
Milwaukee (10-8) 20-14 (Hor #4 seed)
Princeton (11-3) 22-9 (Ivy #2 seed)
Harvard (10-4) 21-8 (Ivy #3 seed)
Fairfield (13-5) 23-11 (MAAC #2 seed)
Iona (12-6) 21-10 (MAAC #3 seed)
Kent State (13-3) 24-10 (MAC #1 Seed)
Akron (12-4) 24-11  (MAC #2 Seed)
Wichita State (12-6) 25-10 (MVC #2 Seed)
Illinois State (11-7) 22-11 (MVC #3 Seed)
Quinnipiac (15-3) 23-10 (NEC #1t seed)
Morehead State (15-3) 24-11 (OVC #2 seed)
Eastern Kentucky (11-7) 20-13 (OVC #3t seed)
Stephen F. Austin (11-5) 23-9 (Southland #2 team)
Charleston (14-4) 22-12 (Socon #2 team)
Appalachian State (13-5) 24-13 (Socon #3 team)
Western Carolina (11-7) 22-12 (Socon #4 team)
IUPUI (15-3) 25-11 (summit #2 seed)
Oral Roberts (13-5) 20-13 (summit #3 seed)
Troy (13-5) 20-13 (Sun Belt #1t seed)
Western Kentucky (12-6) 21-13 (Sun Belt #4 seed)
Portland (10-4) 21-11 (WCC #3 Seed)
Nevada (11-5) 21-13 (WAC #2t Seed)
Louisiana Tech (9-7) 24-11 (WAC #4 Seed)

This number of schools is excluded 20 win non-BCS schools is fairly typical.  The idea that we would have lesser tournament by including more of these schools is just totally wrong.

For years BCS advocates have hid behind the strength of schedule argument. How can anyone credit schools for just being there over schools who consistently excelled against their competition?  It is mind boggling.

After watching Butler cruise to the championship game is anyone really willing to stake their reputation on the fact that no other Horizon teams deserved to make the field?  After years of Butler making runs, why are more Horizon schools still not invited?  It seems pretty clear that someone is hardening Butler for Tournament play.

After watching Northern Iowa knock off overall #1 Kansas how can anyone defend the fact that no other Missouri Valley schools made the field?

Hell, the Ivy League sucks, but after watching Cornell play, is anyone even 100% sure that that no other Ivy league schools could have won a first round game?!?

The list goes on and on.

Contrary to public opinion, a lot of these non-BCS conferences play a very competitive in-conference basketball schedule.

Purists are willingly disconnecting themselves from reality to argue that an expanded field would be a weaker one.  The better non-BCS schools that don't get in today would knock off more of the scrub BCS schools early, making later rounds uniformly more dangerous and leading to an NCAA tourney with an extension of top quality play.

The best argument against 96

The best argument I have heard against 96 is that it would make filling out a bracket way too complex for most basketball fans.  The fans who refused to fill it out would have no stake in watching the tournament hurting TV numbers.

I think there is a lot to this argument.

While I am an advocate of the expansion to 96, I think the NCAA's plan looks like it may stink.

If it was my call, the NCAA would work a deal with the NIT and the NIT would become the Tournament's "losers' bracket".

The NCAA would award their 96 bids.  32 teams would have a week 1 bye.  The next 64 teams would be the NIT field.

The first round would be played from Thursday through Sunday.  The losers would be the NIT field which would play their next games on Monday and Tuesday moving right into the NIT format.

The winners would be immediately seeded into the NCAA Tourney's 64 team bracket right after the final game on Sunday and the bracket would be released at that point.

The first round of the NIT would become a "play-in" round for the NCAA Tournament.

This would enhance the odds of people doing the bracket by giving them a 64 team field with no early games, a full 3 days to fill it out, and a lot greater insight into teams 33-64.

The NIT would survive and actually prosper in this arrangement as they'd be propped up by each team receiving a tourney share.  The dialogue about their champion would not longer be, " Did the tournament selection committee screw them with an awful first round match-up?"

It isn't ideal, but it is very workable.

But none of this is likely

The non-BCS schools rarely work together to achieve major change.

I have touched on the worst case scenarios for the non-BCS schools - losing the NIT,  having the lion's share of their teams seeded in the 65-96 range and being forced to eliminate themselves before the big schools start playing, getting half-shares for making the tourney, having to play 5 games in 11 days while the elite teams of the BCS only have to play 4.

I think all of these things are possible if not likely.

But I do think a much brighter future could be ahead for the non-BCS schools if they move together quickly with purpose now.  They can't get everything they want, but maybe they could get some of it if they took action now.


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