Every few years, we hear that one sports league or another should consider expanding it’s postseason in one way or another. Longer series, expanded pools of teams, etc. It’s always a bad idea. I dare anyone to name me one recent playoff expansion, other than the wildcard in baseball, that has resulted in a superior postseason. Seven game series in the first round of the NBA playoffs? Horrible; now it takes two weeks for one series to end and upsets are more scarce than they used to be. Sixty five teams in the NCAA tournament? Awful; we now get that lousy play in game a few nights before the real tournament starts. More bowl games? Ugh! Now we have 6-6 teams getting bowl invitations. College football conference title games? Lousy! All that’s gotten us is an awful, bloated ACC.
So why do these bad ideas keep popping up? Because the interested parties want greater job security for it’s coaches and executives, and the leagues want more television money. The more games they can provide the more money they can rake in. Even a low rated bowl game on cable often draws a bigger audience than most of that network’s regular programming. And the coaches/executives, often judged a success or failure on their ability to make the postseason, want to increase their chances of getting in and saving their jobs for another year. And while I completely understand them wanting to do that, it would be nice if they were honest about it, and if they didn’t ultimately get their way.
The latest great idea is to expand the NCAA tournament to 96 teams. 96 teams! Do you know what that means? More mid major teams getting their big chance, right? Uhh…..not so much. Actually, it will mean more mediocre teams from power conferences getting bids and losing in the early rounds. This season, the Pac-10 is the epitome of big conference suckitude. The latest SI.com mock bracket has only Pac-10 team getting in; this would be unprecedented. To be frank, the Pac-10 stinks this year. They only deserve one bid. But with a 96 team field you could see five or six teams from a power conference get in, no matter how lousy that conference is that year.
So why is this bad? Well, do you really want to spend an fourth weekend watching March Madness, one full of 19-14 teams playing lower conference winners? Can you say, bad basketball? And can you also say, goodbye Cinderella? Which is the second objective. The only thing worse than missing the tournament is getting there and losing to some no name school in the first round. Well, the probability of that goes down significantly if those schools have to play a major conference team in the first round before getting their crack at a high seed. One of the biggest upsets ever, Hampton over Iowa State, probably doesn’t happen in a 96 team tournament. They’d get stuck playing a fifth place team from the SEC, who would probably be good enough to beat them, and never get their shot at a two seed.
And again, that’s what the big boys want. They want guaranteed berths if they finish with a winning record, and insulation from upset losses to mid major or small conference schools. And that’s all they want. Don’t believe the hype they give us about ‘expanding opportunities’. It isn’t about that. The big conferences feel entitled to tournament bids, and get bent out of shape any time they don’t get at least four. With 96 teams in, it’s a lock. But like I said, what you get by adding 32 MORE teams is bad basketball between mediocre big conference teams and small schools. I don’t want that, and neither should you.