March Madness Might Get A Makeover

Get out your brackets — it's tourney time. Slap down those bets and do your last-minute team research to get bragging rights in the office pools. Some of the usual March Madness mainstays are missing this year (UNC and Arizona, to name a few) and surprise victories are bound to happen (Remember George Mason's upset of UConn in 2006 to make it into the Final Four?). While Cinderella stories do exist in a pool of 65 teams, the pending tourney tweaking has many up in arms.

Many sites are reporting that the NCAA wants to expand the field of to as many as 68 or even 96 teams in hopes of landing a more lucrative TV contract. But I'll leave it to the Sports Business Journal to give you the low-down:

The NCAA has its sights set on expanding from a 65-team tournament to either 68 or 96 teams if it opts out of the CBS contract, according to the 12-page RFP.

A 68-team field would add three "play-in" games to the current 65-team format, and a 96-team field would expand the tournament's inventory by 31 games.

The NCAA also says it is looking for a 14-year term on its next media deal, with a "no-penalty, early termination right in favor of the NCAA," according to the RFP.

The NCAA is considering whether to opt out of its 11-year, $6 billion contract with CBS after the Final Four in April. The deal has three years and $2.131 billion remaining.

After a bit of scouring on sports pages and blogs, I found that basketball fans from coast to coast are split... for now. The expansion could mean more Cinderella stories, more coaches keeping their jobs, a "cheapening" of the regular season, a longer post-season and money, money, and more money. Commentators from the Indianapolis Star and the Detroit Free Press believe the smorgasboard of 65 teams vying for the title is already big enough.

Making the 65-team tournament should be a reward for the chosen few. Go to 96, and it's class basketball all over again, with everybody getting a ribbon for participation. In this country, we're always lowering standards; let's not lower the standard for a tournament that's as perfect now as a cold beer after a sun-splashed day of golf.
-Bob Kravitz, Indianapolis Star

On the other hand, a few writers at The Washington Post and NBC Bay Area agree that in this case — the more, the merrier.

Remember, George Mason was one of the final at-large teams to make the 2006 field. And if that team could win four tournament games after losing in the regular season to, among others, a 15-15 Mississippi State team that finished 5-11 in the SEC, isn't it possible to imagine that some of the supposedly god-awful teams in a 96-team field might create a bit of March magic of their own?
- Dan Steinberger, The Washington Post

As I talked with Sarah before our show today, this madness in the month of March reminded me of a similar discussion on our show. Earlier this month, we had on Neal Gabler to talk about his piece in the LA Times about the Oscars featuring 10 movies nominated for the Best Picture. He decried that "the Academy's position akin to "giving every child on a soccer team a trophy." See any parallels?

For a bit of commentary from our end, check out or March Madness preview with Mike Pesca AND Maryland's senior guard Greivis Vasquez. We promise that it's under 96 minutes.

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