Madness looms as coaches consider expansion
By Robbi Pickeral
Raleigh News and ObserverIf you thought NCAA tournament pools were challenging with 65 teams, can you imagine a bracket with 96?
Adjust the size of your printer type, basketball fans, because it could happen ó and several big-name coaches support the idea.
One of the items under preliminary discussion as the NCAA considers opting out of the final three years of its CBS contract is the expansion of the 65-team tournament. Several numbers have been talked about in recent years, from 68 to 80 to 96.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said last week that he supports the latter, proposing that the NIT and NCAA tournaments merge, that the top 32 teams get first-round byes and the remaining 64 compete in a round of play-in games.
He also suggests that the regular-season champion of every conference should receive automatic bids, as well as the league tournament winners. That would place more emphasis on early conference games and give mid-major leagues a better opportunity to earn more than one berth.
"A lot of people say, 'What are we doing the regular season for?' " Krzyzewski said. "We'd do it because, 'I can get a bid.' I think the matchups become a lot bigger. February games are huge. You're in a league, and on February 25 ... it's a Wednesday night and you're in the Missouri Valley, some team wins and they're in the NCAA tournament. It's not like, 'Now are you on the bubble?' No. You're in, man."
The NCAA tournament began with eight teams in 1939 and steadily expanded, growing from 53 to 64 teams in 1985, then adding a play-in game in 2001. But while the tournament size has stayed essentially the same over the past 25 years, the number of Division I teams has grown from 282 to 347 during that time span ó giving coaches plenty of reasons to want to see the tournament expand.
Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio argues that the growing number of teams, as well as the drop to 13 scholarships, has led to more parity across the board, so "why exclude one of those teams on the bubble?" He also cites the sixth-seeded N.C. State team that won the title in 1983 and the eighth-seeded Villanova squad that won it in 1985 as great stories that emerged because the tournament has grown over the years.
"If they expand the field, it could be the same thing...another story like that," Gaudio said.
Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz, meanwhile, said a bigger field would give more student-athletes the opportunity to experience the event and wouldn't significantly hurt the chances of the teams playing the final two weekends.
"Let's be honest, those 32 additional teams have almost a zero chance of winning it, but to be part of NCAA tournament would be a very special thing for a whole lot of players," he said.
And N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe, who played on that 1983 Wolfpack title squad, pointed out that most football teams play in a bowl game if they post a .500 record.
"There's a chance to play again, there's revenue; it's all of that stuff," Lowe said. "Why can't basketball do the same thing?"
What some coaches hesitate to point out is that they, too, could be beneficiaries ó especially those "on the bubble" of having their contracts extended, renewed, or terminated. Thirty-two more teams mean 32 more guys who can include "NCAA tournament appearance" on their resumes and feel comfortable that their middling league finishes are enough to keep them playing in mid-March.