October 30, 2010
At the conclusion of the 2010 season there was an almost immediate discussion of expanding the tournament from the current 65-team format. Negative rumblings that going to a 96 team tournament would dissolve the historic NIT led to the advent of a 68 team field and the announcement of the “First Four” in which the last four automatic qualifiers and the last four at-large entrants would battle for the right to enter the 64 team field. The tournament format wasn’t the only change for the NCAA’s biggest cash cow, as CBS and Turner Sports signed a new 14-year contract with the NCAA to broadcast the event. The biggest caveat of the new deal is that for the first time in its history every game of the tournament will be broadcast live on such channels as TBS, TNT and TruTV in addition to CBS.
The new television contract ensures that NCAA basketball tournament will continue to be the biggest muti-day event of the year. The good news for hoop junkies is that you will no longer miss any action during live look-ins because while remotes across the country will be smoldering every game of the tournament will be broadcast live on CBS or a member of the Turner Sports family (TNT, TBS or TruTV). The bad news could be that the casual fan either doesn’t get some of these channels or can’t find them on the dial, so be prepared for the NCAA and CBS to inundate us with reminders during the year on where to find the games in March.
The new format for the tournament was the best compromise available if the NCAA was dead set on expansion. 68 teams allows for three more teams without taking away the significance of the NIT to college basketball. What the NCAA did is add an additional opening round game that pits two #16 seeds resulting in two 16s up for grabs in Dayton. Then the NCAA added what amounts to two opening round games involving the last four teams to make the field. Much like the 16 seeds, the games involving the at-large teams will be like seeds, they could be two 9s playing for the right to play an 8-seed, two 11s facing off with the winner playing a 6-seed, etc.
The power conferences will likely bellyache about having to play in the first four games and then the tournament should they win. The selection committee has already said to those conferences, without expansion you wouldn’t be in the tournament at all. There’s an easy solution for all division 1 basketball teams that want to avoid traveling to Dayton in March: play a quality schedule and win games.