In what could be a watershed moment for college basketball, the NCAA has until Friday to decide whether to opt out of its current broadcasting deal with the CBS network. One of the main factors in this decision is the NCAA’s preference to work out a new deal that will support an expansion of the “March Madness” NCAA championship tournament to 96 teams from its current 64*.
(*I refuse to recognize the so-called “play-in game” as an official part of the NCAA tournament because it doesn’t appear on my bracket – filled out purely for entertainment purposes and not for financial gain, as gambling is illegal in the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts… except for the state-sponsored lottery, but I digress.)
Obviously, money is at the heart of all of these decisions. By adding 31 games to the schedule, tournament officials are adding millions to their coffers in broadcast and ticket revenue. (Money made, by the way, on the backs of amateur athletes who are suspended if they accept a free steak dinner every now and then, but again I digress.)
I have two major problems with this decision:
1) With 346 teams in men’s Division 1 NCAA basketball, a 96-team tournament would mean that almost 28% of all teams will get into the post-season. While this is still far less than the 58% of teams that accept bowl game invitations in NCAA football, it still renders the regular season virtually meaningless.
2) Speaking of NCAA football and the bowl system, how can the NCAA bemoan a 16-team football playoff because of the time it’ll take students out of the classroom (even though it would largely be played during winter break when most schools don’t have class), and then take over 1,000 student-athletes out of class for almost a month in the middle of the semester for a 96-team tournament? The hypocrisy is mind-bottling.
For the record, I LOVE the NCAA basketball tournament. March Madness is one of my favorite times of year, bridging the gap between the NFL playoffs and meaningful baseball games. But this idea is ridiculous, stupid, and generally bad.