Big Ten coaches have differing views on potential NCAA tournament expansion to 96 teams
Bo Ryan has seen three expansions of the NCAA tournament in his time around college basketball. Each time, the ninth-year Wisconsin coach said, it has improved the quality of the tournament.
The NCAA is considering drastically altering the current 65-team bracket, looking at expansion to 96 teams. It has led to discussion and debate and coaches and administrators taking various sides on what will be a hotly-discussed issue throughout the rest of the season and potentially into next year.
“To me, it’s foolish for those people who are saying it’s perfect the way it is,” Ryan said Monday. “Obviously, they’ve lived a very shallow life when it comes to looking at change and what change can do and how it can affect things. The history of expansion with the NCAA has been very successful.
“The only people who would be disappointed would be all those people that have already printed out their 64-game bracket sheets. I think those can be changed.”
Not every coach is as passionate about tournament expansion as Ryan, although his issues are clear. His main contention is that in football - and other NCAA sports - more of a percentage of the teams participating in the sport make the national championship in the post-season.
Football, whose post-season isn’t controlled by the NCAA, allows almost half of its teams to play in a bowl game. Ryan also sees it as a way for coaches and players to spend more time together.
There’s also the money.
The NCAA, according to the Associated Press, has an 11-year, $6 billion contract with CBS, but has an opt-out clause after this season. This has sent the NCAA to meet with other networks about moving the tournament from CBS, and included in that discussion is how the networks would feel about expansion. The money, though, goes beyond the NCAA.
Many coaches have bonuses tied to tournament appearances and games won in the NCAA tournament. For instance, Michigan coach John Beilein receives $25,000 for each NCAA tournament appearance.
For smaller conference coaches, Ryan says, the bonus can make a bigger difference.
Not every coach is completely on board with the potential NCAA expansion.
Iowa coach Todd Lickliter said any potential expansion needs to be “well thought out and well-planned” in part because of the current success of the 65-team format.
Purdue’s Matt Painter leans toward wanting expansion, but he isn’t as gung-ho as other coaches like Ryan, Ohio State’s Thad Matta and Illinois’ Bruce Weber. Painter’s main reason for endorsing it is it’ll help coaches with job security and leave more teams with positive results and a better feeling of success at season’s end.
“I think there’s nothing wrong with it right now, but there’s a lot of good teams and they keep adding Division I and if you go look at the NIT, there’s a lot of good teams that are going to the NIT that can get into the NCAA and get into the NCAA and win a game or two,” Painter said. “Are they teams that can get to the Final Four or national championship? I would highly doubt it.
“But for if you look at the expansion the last time, in 1985, we’ve added a lot of teams to Division I basketball yet it hasn’t expanded and it has made it difficult in the eyes of their administrators to have a successful season.”
There are also those who have their outright concerns and think the tournament should stay the way it is right now - or at most make a smaller move to four play-in games at 68 teams.
If the potential of expansion to 96 goes through, it would be the biggest jump in teams ever for the NCAA tournament, which began as an eight-team bracket in 1939. The tournament's biggest previous shifts have been to 16 teams in 1951, 32 teams in 1975, 48 teams in 1980 and then 64 in 1985. In 2001, the current format, which added one play-in game to increase the field to 65, was adopted.
Among those concerned is Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who told the Sporting News he worries about what tournament expansion would do to college basketball’s regular season and the conference tournaments.
“I do think the tournament is elegant in the way that it’s structured,” Delany told the Sporting News. “But I’m more concerned about, ‘What does this mean for the sport of basketball from November through March?’ I don’t think it would make the tournament less popular. It would affect it in some ways. There’d be different kinds of competition in the first and second round.”
For one, it would knock the thought of “Cinderella,” most recently played by George Mason on the way to the 2006 Final Four and Davidson en route to the 2008 Elite Eight down a few pegs.
It would also change the way fans fill out brackets as the NCAA tournament becomes one of the most anticipated office events of the year nationwide.
There’s also the specialness of it, of being selected to make a run at the national title in such a small, elite field.
“I could see adding a couple more play-in games if you had to but to go to 96 may be a hard thing to do,” Beilein said. “I think it’s pretty good right now. I’ve said a lot of the changes we’ve made in college basketball, whether it’s rules changes or whatever, most of the time I look at it, college basketball through rose colored glasses sometimes and I think it’s the greatest game in the world and doesn’t need a lot of change.
“That would be old-school with me as far as this tournament would go.”
Beilein’s position leaves him at odds with others, especially Ryan, who was among the more outspoken coaches about the issue Monday on the Big Ten’s weekly conference
“For the expansion not to take place, it can only be because there are some people behind the scenes that are controlling certain entities that will not allow us to do this,” Ryan said. “But if this doesn’t happen, it’ll be a crime.”