Expanding the NCAA Basketball Tournament - why and why not

Expanding the Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament field might make sense or it might be greed-driven, March madness of a different kind. Which is it?
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The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is the most successful every year, multi-day sports event. It has been so sensational that not even the NCAA has been able to screw it up. Now the NCAA and multiple conference commissioners want to expand the tournament field.

One of those commissioners is the SEC's Greg Sankey. This shows that even one of the sporting world's smartest people can sometimes be dead wrong. KSR's Nick Roush described the idea as "This time the bozos are moving forward to ruin the only thing they do well, the NCAA Tournament."

As soon as the 2025-26 season the NCAA Tournament field could be expanded to 72 or 76 teams, with all the new slots filled by at-large teams. The discussed expanded format would include more play-in games, like those staged in Dayton every year since the field was expanded from 64 to 68 teams.

According to in-depth reporting by Ross Dellenger, there is so much support at the power conference level, that expanding the tournament is considered "inevitable."

Why expand the Men's NCAA Tournament

It is easy to understand why. Whatever other reasons are given, the only credible answer is money. Expanding the field provides more games and, theoretically the added games bring in more revenue. In February, the Big 12's Brett Yormark voiced support for an expanded Big Dance, citing a different 'why' reason, "I want to see the best teams competing for a national championship, no different than (the Big Ten and SEC) want to see in football. I’m not sure that is currently happening.” If Yormark believes those words, he knows nothing about college basketball.

Currently, the Men's NCAA Tournament generates around $700M in revenues, which is distributed to schools. It is not shared equally. The distribution includes 'incentive units' based on the number of games played. The power football conferences, plus the Big East earn a large majority of the incentive payouts. Theoretically, more games would mean larger payouts.

NCAA Tournament Expansion Why Not

Added play-in games may not be valued by CBS and Turner. How much more, if any, will the two media partners be willing to pay for what would be games involving mediocre teams? The number could be zero. More likely it would be a small increase.

It is expected the main field of 64 teams, needing six wins to earn an NCAA Tournament Championship will be maintained, whether the complete field grows to 72 or 76 teams. Already the play-in teams must win seven straight games to become a champion. For the play-in winners a compressed schedule is required, including the tournament's First Round. Is college basketball well-served by requiring eight or 12 teams to win seven straight to win a championship? Winning six straight is a daunting task. Seven might be exponentially harder.

Nick Roush called the supporters of an expanded Big Dance field "bozos" and "idiots." He is not entirely wrong.

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