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Expanding the NCAA Tourney to 96 teams is a rotten idea

Mar 4, 2010, 4:30 PM EDT

As March Madness grows closer (you can tell by Bill Raftery’s gargling), so does the fierce debate over how many teams should be admitted to the NCAA Men’s Div. I tourney. Our own Jelisa Catsrodale takes a look at a proposal which may make the NCAA bracket look like that Ladders commercial. Please give her your undivided attention.
By Jelisa Castrodale
On Monday, I flipped to a brand new calendar page and — wedged between the reminders to get my car inspected and to order another carton of heartworm pills — is an incredible stretch of twenty-five days, beginning with next week’s conference tournaments and ending with the NCAA Championship. I adore March Madness because it combines some of my favorite things: almost non-stop college basketball, equally non-stop reasons to order pizza every night, and the very real possibility I’ll go bald from malnutrition.
As we inch closer to three weeks of sweat-wicking fabrics and Final Four logos, the biggest questions aren’t whether Dick Vitale will finally just make out with Mike Krzyzewski or how long my apartment will smell like marinara sauce and mid-majors, but whether this is one of the last times we’ll see an NCAA tournament with only sixty-four teams.

The NCAA has been stuck at 64 since 1985 — as has Cher — but the argument to expand the field to an overwhelming ninety-six teams is gaining momentum, if not popularity among coaches and fans. The very idea raises a number of questions about the logistics of scheduling additional games, about how it would affect conference tournaments and whether anyone can write small enough to legibly complete a 96-team bracket. This is a suggestion that makes me stomp my foot and make what I hope is my most threatening noise, and here’s why:
* Let’s start with Selection Sunday, when the players on those often-referenced bubble teams change into their finest warmups, anxiously link arms and wait to hear Greg Gumbel announce their school’s name. If every team gets into the tournament, that kills the anticipation and excitement of, um, watching a group of athletic undergrads stare expectantly into the camera for two solid hours.
* What happens to the NIT? Granted, the National Invitational has always been the Ashlee Simpson to the NCAA’s Jessica, but it remains an important source of revenue for for the teams who participate, like last year’s winner … Geo … um … Niag … uh … whoever it was.
* Part of the NCAA tournament’s appeal is the potential for upsets, for those out-of-nowhere teams — the ones who won’t ever get their own logo Snuggie — to upset a single-digit seed and launch a thousand Carl “Cinderella Story” Spackler impressions in a thousand different Applebees. It’s neat when VCU takes out Duke in the first round, wrecking your bracket but making your day. It’s not as neat if VCU has to play, like, Siena and Manhattan and Belmont before they get to Duke.
* There’s a lot to be said for exclusivity and, for me, this is my biggest argument. Look, when I was eight, I played Little League, which meant I spent one inning every Saturday eating a handful of dandelions and — if anyone managed to land a ball in centerfield — trying to get it to second base in less than four throws. Essentially, I was our Johnny Damon. We won the championship that year and I got a trophy, as did anyone who wore the same oversized mesh hat as the starters. The gesture was supposed to make me feel better, but even with a brain addled from all the weed killer I’d eaten, I felt like I didn’t deserve it and that it cheapened the accomplishments of the real players.
I love the NCAA tournament and don’t want that to happen, for the early rounds to be stripped of any of their electricity or their exclusivity, for everyone to get a trophy. Automatically adding another thirty-two teams is almost unfair to the programs who make a late season run, who leave every ounce of effort on the court during their conference tournaments, the ones who stare eagerly into the camera on Selection Sunday. And the last thing I want is for the NCAAs to become as bloated as college football’s bowl schedule, where every other team is given a bid to meaningless games like the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl or the KY Jelly Intense Arousal Cream For Her Classic.
But, you know, that could just be my last heartworm pill talking.
Jelisa Castrodale is a writer and comedian who has learned a lot about life by making a mess of her own. She chronicles her failures at The Typing Makes Me Sound Busy, covers music for London’s BitchBuzz and twitters while she waits at stoplights. Castrodale was featured in the book Twitter Wit and was named one of Mashable’s 10 Funniest Twitterers.
Also by Jelisa Castrodale

  1. Hender328 - Mar 4, 2010 at 11:38 PM

    To me you could make it more interesting if you took some of the NCAA automatic bids and give them a play in game. You already have gone from 64 to 65 by having one play in game. So you can do that for each number one seed. That takes it up to 68. Rank the conferences at the end of the past year. Take the bottom eight ranked conferences from the year before, so they know they have a play-in game. Those eight teams play to get down to four and they play the ones.

  2. fiveiron - Mar 5, 2010 at 9:05 AM

    I don’t like the 96-team idea, either. If they have to expand the tourney field, 128 would be more practical.