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The Best Result Of A 96-Team Tournament

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Play-in game / Getty ImagesWe may as well come to terms with the reality that the NCAA will eventually add a sporkful of teams into the March Madness orgy. As if 65 schools weren't enough to quickly learn in a four-day span, 96 may be the new format as early as next year. It may be opposed by a four-fifths majority of fans, but the BCS is proof positive that playoff formats are not about giving fans happy feelings.

Yes, it waters down the achievement of reaching the tournament. Yes, it uproots the seeding as we've known it since the mid-'80s. And yes, this means that additional games will be played on weekdays, causing us to burn more personal days. This also means the mythical "16 beating a 1" accomplishment will be far more likely, since the seeds will go all the way up to 24.

We could debate all day on whether or not worse teams can still provide fans with exciting finishes and feel-good stories. As for the new seeding, we'll get over it. 

But the best, if not indirect, result of instantiating a 96-team tournament will be the removal of that damn play-in game. 

Ten years ago, eight members of the Western Athletic Conference seceded and formed its own conference, the Mountain West. For whatever reason, an additional conference meant the addition of another automatic bid to the tournament, so they tacked one more invitation on the bracket's hindquarters, sticking out like a malignant protuberance. In this game, the two lowest ranked teams would play each other for the right to get mauled by the top overall seed. 

I'll admit, it was a cute, fun tradition held annually in Dayton to give these tiny teams the sportin' chance to tally some NCAA tournament wins on their resume. However, the game was such a bizarre novelty, virtually all office pools and online bracket contests didn't even let people pick the winner. Its effect on the tournament was like a summer breeze against the Berlin Wall.

Looking back on it, we may put this concept in the Defective Sports Museum Hall of Fame next to the 1976 White Sox shorts and the XFL.

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  • does the loser of play-in get to be a top seed in NIT?

  • They do not. “Play-in” was an awful term to begin with, because it is as much an NCAA tournament game as anything else and the only thing they’re playing into is certain doom.

    And Team 65 would probably not make it past the first round of the NIT either.