As if the political elite messing with our health care wasn't bad enough, the basketball elite now threatens our NCAA tournament by perhaps adding 31 more teams to the NCAA basketball tournament, raising the total from 65 to 96. Like the health care vote, adding more teams to the tournament would truly be “March Madness.”
Ultimately the recommendation will be made by Greg Shaheen, the senior VP of basketball and business strategies for the NCAA and president of the National Invitational Tournament. The 18 University presidents and chancellors comprising the board will vote on it, which could come as early as next month when they meet on April 29.
Like the health care bill, all the mitigating factors seem to be in alignment for expansion. The NIT contract expires this year, and CBS can opt out of their 13-year television contract with the NCAA tournament this year. However, $2.13 billion of the $6 billion contract would have been paid over the next three years. You can hear Disney, which owns ABC and ESPN, salivating in the background.
The NCAA argues that by expanding the number of teams, more athletes will get the opportunity to experience the big tournament. The NCAA could further promote their message that life skills learned in college athletics can lead to successful business careers. Of course, an expanded tournament also means greater opportunities for universities and the NCAA to make more money off college athletes. Like the health care bill, it is really about big business and money.
A number of plans exist, but here is one scenario. Since the NIT contract expires this year, the NIT and NCAA would join forces for an eight-round tournament. In the first round, the top 32 teams would get a bye, thus assuring no major upsets or eliminations of number one seeds in the first round. (We wouldn’t want a Virginia Tech or Illinois knocking off Kansas.) The tournament would then progress as it currently does.
Pundits and bloggers frown on the expansion. The main argument from the bloggers seems to be: why ruin a good thing? Their other arguments include, "the NCAA should do something about football before messing with basketball." And by expanding the championship tournament, the NCAA will further diminish the regular season and conference tournaments.
That last argument holds the most substance. If everyone but the bottom team from a conference makes the playoffs, why even have a regular season at all? What happens to conference tournaments?
Like the health care bill, businesses worry that an expanded bracket will cost them more money. They fear employees will spend even more time online picking their teams rather than working. More time will be wasted around the water fountain discussing the previous night’s games. There may even be an increase in sick days, causing health care costs to go up. An extended tournament could be detrimental to productivity, and cause the demise of the American worker. Wait a minute, with so many people unemployed, aren’t we already there?
Expansion of the NCAA tournament might be too important a decision for the American people. Perhaps the NCAA and universities shouldn’t be trusted with the decision either. So maybe Congress should be involved in this decision, but by the time they get anything done, we will have already moved on. Congress may never make a decision by the end of April.