You may have heard there’s a movement afoot among some college administrators to expand the 68-team NCAA basketball tournaments.
“The time is now,” said Jim Phillips, ACC commissioner and a member of the NCAA’s transformation committee. “ . . . I really would like us to expand.”
First, who knew there was such a thing as an NCAA transformation committee, and now that we know there is, can anything be done to transform the performance of the NCAA’s chief suit, Mark Emmert?
But on this notion of expanding the hoops tournaments, I say, why stop there? I’d advocate for Augusta National to move from 18 to 19 holes, for marathons to be, oh, 29 miles instead of 26.2, and for the famed race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to be the Indy 507.
In many cases, the NCAA is guilty of intransigence, of doing nothing when it ought to be forward-looking. For years, it fought the name-image-likeness issue, and now we’ve got a new collegiate sport: Bidding wars for athletes.
But, give us the nearest thing to perfection, a tournament that captures the nation’s sporting attention for most of a month, that rallies office workers to bracket pools and makes goliaths of underdogs, and we want to change it.
This is the worst idea since cement floaties. I can’t recall any proposal that has met with such universal derision, unless you’re a college coach trying to keep his job or a conference commissioner dreaming up ways to extract more money out of a major NCAA cash cow.
Greg Sankey, the powerful SEC commissioner, co-chairs the transformation committee, and he and Phillips have framed this as an access issue. Seems the committee has advanced the idea that as much as 25 percent of a sport’s teams ought to be able to qualify for the NCAA’s post-season.
Since there are 363 programs competing in men’s Division I basketball, that would put upwards of 90 teams in the tournament. It’ll take you right to the first tipoff to fill out a bracket.
Of course, that list of 363 teams includes UMass-Lowell, Maine, New Jersey Tech, Bethune-Cookman, North Alabama and St. Thomas, and scores of others that don’t have a shot in hell of winning a couple of games in the tournament, let alone the whole thing. So we’re not really talking about championship opportunities deprived.
Let’s call this what it is: A shameless cash grab.
What Phillips really should have said is, “Help, please save us from ourselves.”
It’s those power-conference schools, the ones in the middle of their league standings, that would stand to benefit most. You know, the ones that spend like a bunch of guys at a bachelor party in Vegas.
In that vein, USA Today just did its annual report on salaries for Division I football coaches. Jimbo Fisher of Texas A&M and Mel Tucker of Michigan State each would be owed $86 million if they were fired without cause in 2022, and although neither is in jeopardy, nobody is clamoring to name the field after them, either.
“Let’s be honest,” said Mike Young, the men’s basketball coach at Virginia Tech. “Isn’t (this) conference commissioners that want more of their teams included?”
Phillips contends his ACC men’s teams could have placed more than five in the 2022 tournament, and – he apparently was serious – more than eight on the women’s side.
On a list of most pathetic things you’ve seen, ranking high is the coach, who, on Selection Sunday, wails about the injustice of it all, that his team that went 21-15 with a conference record of 8-10 got stiffed by the committee.
The calculation is so forgiving. You can win your league. You can schedule harder, instead of bringing in Ipswich A&T for one of those ubiquitous “buy” games. You can stockpile impressive victories. You can avoid a nine-losses-in-10-games abyss like that visited by one of last March’s chief plaintiffs, Texas A&M.
“What you don’t understand,” insists Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton, referring to the achievement of making the tournament, “is the joy and sense of accomplishment. It outweighs anything that is negative.”
In other words, if you don’t have the right stuff to get to the tournament, the tournament will come to you and soften the standards.
Let’s save the CapriSuns and participation trophies for kid sports, not the NCAA tournament.