Howdy Neighbor: Illinois Coaches Reactions To Field of 68

Jonah PulsCorrespondent IMay 3, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS - MARCH 12:  Head coach Bruce Weber of the Illinois Fighting Illini reacts to a play during their game against the Wisconsin Badgers in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 12, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Expansion, expansion, expansion.

The expansion to 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament is a very hot topic right now.

It's right behind the all the talk about players entering the NBA Draft, and what players will stay in the draft or go back to school.

Many would have been fine with the field of 65. Others are content with them turning it into the field of 68. Then, there are those who want it to be more than 68—possibly 96 or more.

Everyone has opinions in what they wanted to happen, when they wanted it to happen, and why they wanted it to happen. Players, coaches, media, and fans are all guilty of it.

College coaches from the state of Illinois have recently been interviewed about what their opinions are on the expansion. As expected, many did not support the expansion to 96, but they felt more needed to be done.

“I think it’s good,” Bradley head coach Jim Les said of the three-team expansion. “You add three teams to the mix, and the fact that you have a play-in game at each regional should work well. I wasn’t in favor of the 96-team field, but 68 still seems too short.

“The [96 teams] type of growth is a bit far-fetched. It would take away the allure of the tournament. I think three more teams and still continuing to focus on increasing teams is the right idea.”

With the new 14-year deal the NCAA has passed, every game will be viewable, which will result in more money for the NCAA to payout schools.

“I think it’s a good start,” Illinois head coach Bruce Weber said. “To me, there is still room for expansion. I think there is enough parity in college basketball that [expansion] wouldn’t take away that much. For me, the biggest thing is about student-athletes getting the chance to be part of the biggest event in college sports.”

“What’s the goal of a kid playing college basketball? It’s to play in the [NCAA] tournament. The more student-athletes, the more programs, the better. I think it’s a win-win for the school’s benefit to get the experience and a piece of the pie.”

Although the field of 96 may have been a bit overplayed, there are still many positives things that come out of it such as more publicity, and more acknowledgement towards the college.

“The thing about [playing in the NCAA Tournament] is the notoriety and level of enthusiasm that it brings to the university, to the community,” said Les, who piloted his Bradley Braves to a 2006 Sweet Sixteen run.

“When we were on the cover of Sports Illustrated and the USA Today [in 2006], that put the spotlight on us. It boosts your university with the academic environment, the enrollment and money."

Then, there are those who will argue against the whole situation. They get the point across that expanding the tournament will do nothing good for you in the long run, except get you more money, which is not worth it if you are ruining the best tournament in the world.

“Greed is the root of all evil,” said Illinois State head coach Tim Jankovich. “I believe that maybe as much as anything. When money is the master, maybe you’re not doing things for the right reasons. It’s the beauty of college basketball we’re talking about, not the dollar signs.

“And it’s not like [an expansion] just opens up the flood gates. The complaint is that there’s so many teams that get left out. Well, there’s going to be a new bubble, and that bubble will never stop unless everyone gets in and I couldn’t vote for that.”

Weber's team would be the first team to support an expansion, because they were known to many as one of "the first teams out" of the NCAA Tournament.

“It affects people's lives,” Weber said. “It’s hard on the kids, the programs and if affects coaches’ jobs. There’s always three to five teams that it comes down between and how do you justify between them? We had enough top-25 wins [in 2010]. We played more top teams than other teams played. It’s hard to understand.

“I think we could have won games in the NCAA tournament that affected the national championship. We beat Michigan State and they were in the Final Four."

An expansion to 96 would bring many more opportunities to mid-major schools, such as Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley Conference, who prove they can hang with the best.

“We want to look at it as more opportunities for our league,” said Les. “[The Missouri Valley Conference] is a heck of a league with great coaches. This allows those at-large opportunities that we’ve just missed. You could stretch back to Missouri State in 2006, a team with a No. 21 RPI that didn’t get into the tournament."

Jankovich, who's team has reached the NIT three straight years, has never supported the expansion to 96 teams, even though his team would have been "dancing" for three straight years.

"We would have been in all three years easily. It wouldn’t have even been close,” Jankovich said. “If it’s a self-serving, selfish thing. Of course I would want [expansion]. But if I were not coaching in the Missouri Valley or if I was insurance, I wouldn’t be for it.

“It’s a hard argument and I agree and disagree with everything [the NCAA] proposes because I see both sides of it. Am I for 96 teams for us? Yes. Am I for 96 teams for college basketball? No. I don’t think it’s what’s best.”