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Posted on Mon, Feb 8, 2010 : 4:30 p.m.

Big Ten coaches have differing views on potential NCAA tournament expansion to 96 teams

By Michael Rothstein

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.”

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan basketball for He can be reached at (734) 623-2558, by e-mail at or follow along on Twitter @mikerothstein.


Paul the Malcontent

Thu, Feb 11, 2010 : 9:19 p.m.

First off, I meant expand to 80 teams in my last post instead of 72. @TX2AA: The NBA playoff rounds do seem to take forever, but I wouldn't blame most of that on the change from 5 to 7 games. Instead, I think it has to do with them wanting as many weekend (televised) games as possible, and therefore sometimes only playing 3 games in 7 days; personally I believe each of the earlier rounds should be playing a game every other day. And it isn't only the NBA that's guilty of this; MLB and the NHL have stretched out their postseason rounds too. Not only does it seem to take forever to get through a each round, it actually alters the nature of competition in the postseason (especially in baseball, a game normally played almost every day during the regular season, due to pitching rotation issues). @tater: Agreed that the conference tournaments diminish the regular season, but a field of all the teams would diminish the tournaments too. Why even have conferences if every team gets into the tourney? @sikness: In reality, they would probably be adding teams in the #9-13 seed range for the most part, relegating the weaker (read: small conference) teams currently receiving those seeds to the new lower seeds (#17-20 for a 80-team tourney or #17-24 for 96 teams), which would also reduce the chances of the memorable upsets & near-upsets. That's why I think a rule requiring at least a.500 record (both overall and in-conference) to receive an at-large bid should be instituted along with any expansion, otherwise the additional teams will include many also-rans from the power conferences and just mean that the rich would continue to get richer.


Tue, Feb 9, 2010 : 4:24 p.m.

Tater, you're idea isn't half bad...never thought I'd say that line. But I tend to lean more towards the TX2AA thoughts of the world. I do believe it still stands that a 16 seed has NEVER beaten a 1 seed, correct? Now we want to add a 17/18 seed? For what? If a 16 seed can't beat a 1, why would an 18 seed beat a 1?


Tue, Feb 9, 2010 : 8:20 a.m.

Gary Grant quotes and what he said to Darius Morris


Mon, Feb 8, 2010 : 11:09 p.m.

There is no need to expand, none. How many 14/15- ranked teams make it to the past the second round? Not a lot. I could understand it if more Cinderellas were making it to the Sweet 16 but the George Mason's are the exception, not the rule. It will be as annoying as the first round of the NBA when they expanded it to best of 7 from 5, now it feels like it takes forever to get past the first round.

Macabre Sunset

Mon, Feb 8, 2010 : 5:37 p.m.

I'm not certain what this would accomplish. We have a good balance now, and combining the NCAA with the NIT might devalue the urgency we see toward the end of the season and discourage premier early-season games.

Stuart Left

Mon, Feb 8, 2010 : 5:21 p.m.

Sixty Four teams are plenty. If yo increase it they will have teams undeserving of being in the NCAA. Like Michigan these year dosn't belong in the NCAA.

Paul the Malcontent

Mon, Feb 8, 2010 : 4:43 p.m.

I think there is room for some expansion, but it falls somewhere between 68 and 96 teams. Not sure of the logistics of making the brackets work with 72 teams for example, but that might make some sense, and follows the patterns of the past three expansions. Regardless of the number though, I'd hope (but wouldn't bet on) any expansion be accompanied by a rule prohibiting teams with below-.500 conference records from being at-large invitees, so that the expansion would be of greater benefit to the smaller conference teams. Also, the NCAA seriously frowns on referring to the extra game as a "play-in game." They refer to it and treat it as just another tournament game.