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Hartselle Enquirer

NCAA expansion is a good idea

By Staff
Justin Schuver, Sports Editor
Anybody who is a sports fan probably loves the event known as March Madness. The NCAA men's basketball tournament is one of the few single-elimination tournaments left in college sports, and the format has allowed for drama year after year.
Who can forget this year, when tiny little Continental Athletic League school George Mason shocked the world by making it to the Final Four? And how about mighty Big XII power Kansas going down to a mid-major school in two consecutive tournaments (Bradley this year, Bucknell in 2005)?
Now, the NCAA wants to tinker with a formula that has been successful since the tournament expanded to 64 (technically now 65) teams in 1985. In its upcoming men's and women's basketball committee meetings in Orlando this week, the NCAA will debate whether or not to expand the tournament's pool of teams, possibly to as many as 128 schools.
I personally have not agreed with many things the NCAA has done in recent years, but this is one instance where I believe the Never Can Accomplish Anything might be on the right track. In its current format, the NCAA awards 31 automatic bids to the winners of the 31 Division I conferences. That leaves just 34 at-large bids to be doled out among a list of teams that every year features several deserving schools who get left out. And that list is only getting bigger each year – in 1985, there were 282 Division I teams; now there are 333.
Consider last year, when Continental Athletic League runner-up Hofstra was left out of the field of 65, despite finishing the season with a 24-6 record. And remember George Mason? Hofstra was 2-0 against the Colonials, including knocking George Mason out of the CAA tournament.
Or how about the past two years, when South Carolina has missed the NCAA Tournament only to go on and win the National Invitation Tournament. The joke is that the NIT winner is considered the 66th best team in the nation (after the 65 teams who made the "big" NCAA Tournament), but it's more likely that the Gamecocks would have been able to make some major noise in the NCAA Tournament if the field had been larger those two years. After all, they did beat eventual national champion Florida during the 2006 regular season. Twice.
Some would argue that expanding the NCAA tournament pool would water down the competition, but I disagree entirely. There are about 110 Division I football teams in the NCAA, and currently 28 bowl games in postseason play. This means that about half of the teams in Division I college football will play in a bowl.
Compare this to NCAA men's basketball, which has over 300 schools. That means that four of every five Division I teams will miss the tournament, hardly a fair ratio. Increasing that ratio to every two of five (something that would be possible if the field was doubled in size) keeps postseason play as something that has to be earned while still giving more teams a chance to get into the Big Dance.
Another argument against expansion says that any expansion would only favor the "large" conferences such as the Big 10, SEC, Pac-10, Big East and ACC.
To counter this argument, I say that all you need to do is look at the NIT. In the 2006 field, you had the MAAC's Manhattan, the NEC's Farleigh Dickinson, Lipscomb from the Atlantic Sun, Western Kentucky from the Sun Belt and the MEAC's Delaware State, among others. Each of these schools were regular season conference champions who failed to win their conference's postseason tournament and did not receive an at-large bid to the Big Dance. Under an expanded field of 128, these teams and more would get a chance to prove their mettle.
As it is now, these schools instead get relegated to the NIT, where they usually face a sub-par power conference team that is more upset about failing to reach the NCAA tournament than excited about making the NIT. The result is predictable and often boring games that add nothing to the college basketball season.
There's an easy solution. Dissolve the pointless NIT and expand the NCAA tournament to 128 teams with an extra week of play. Now that's real March Madness.
YOUR TURN: What do you think about expanding the field to more than the current 65 teams? Good idea or bad idea? E-mail justin.schuver@hartselleenquirer.com with your opinion.

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