While conference expansion has been the topic du jour in college sports all offseason, the NCAA announced Thursday it had discussed a different type of expansion this week.
The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee acknowledged its members talked about expanding the NCAA tournament in its three-day meeting this week, but the organization also said expanding the field is “not imminent.”
“The committee must be good stewards for the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship,” said Dan Gavitt, NCAA senior vice president of basketball. “They are committed to doing their due diligence looking at a few different models to make an informed decision that’s in the best interests of the championship, and that may very well include deciding against expansion.”
“The committee and staff will continue studying options and gathering feedback from various constituents,” Gavitt added. “Whether the tournament expands or not remains to be seen.”
Here’s what to know about where everyone stands on expanding the field.
How did we get here?
While expanding the NCAA tournament has been a topic of conversation in college sports for some time, it became an official discussion point in January, when the NCAA Division I transformation committee released a 22-page report with a variety of recommendations to college sports. Among those recommendations was one allowing 25% of teams in sports with at least 200 schools to compete in championship events. In men’s college basketball, which had 363 schools last season, that would mean up to 90 teams could participate in the NCAA tournament.
The Division I board of directors approved that recommendation (and others) later that month.
The men’s NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, later going to 65 teams in 2001 and 68 in 2011. The NCAA hasn’t specified if there is a particular model or number of teams it is considering in these expansion discussions.
When might the committee discuss this topic again?
The next in-person meeting for the committee will be in late October in Phoenix, although it’s likely a virtual meeting or two will be scheduled before the committee meets in the fall.
How do college sports’ power brokers view tournament expansion?
While individual conference expansion has been at the forefront of most discussions between conference commissioners, a couple of league leaders have already made clear their stances on tournament expansion.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey got the ball rolling last summer, when he told Sports Illustrated he was willing to take a “fresh look” at the tournament.
“If the last team in can win the national championship, and they’re in the 30s or 40s from an RPI or [NCAA] NET standpoint, is our current approach supporting national championship competition?” Sankey said at the time. “I think there’s health in that conversation. That doesn’t exclude people. It goes to: How do we include people in these annual national celebrations that lead to a national champion?”
ACC commissioner Jim Phillips told ESPN at ACC media day last fall he thought tournament expansion was worth exploring.
“It’s the crown jewel of all of our championships,” Phillips said. “There’s nothing that really duplicates it, on both sides, on the men’s side and the women’s side. So you have to be respectful of not messing it up either, and understand it’s in a really good, healthy place. But you also have to continue to be progressive, and I try to think about those things in that way.”
“More access, more opportunity for more young men and women,” he added. “There’s a lot of positives to that.”
Big East commissioner Val Ackerman has expressed concern about television contracts and the logistical and scheduling complexities of an expanded tournament.
CBS and Turner Sports are contracted to televise the NCAA tournament through 2032.
What do college basketball coaches think about expansion?
Coaches are fairly split on whether to expand the tournament from 68 teams.
Late last month, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo told ESPN’s Myron Medcalf that expansion could diminish the product.
“I just think it’s going to get watered down,” Izzo said. “I worry about that a little bit. It wouldn’t bother me if they did that, but I do worry that if it gets watered down, it’s not good. … I think 68 has been a pretty good number. I think you get enough good first-round games. That’s me.”
At ACC media day last fall, Miami coach Jim Larrañaga explained why he’s in favor.
“I’ve been a proponent of expanding the NCAA tournament for a long time,” Larrañaga said. “If you look at the mission of college basketball, the NCAA tournament is the culmination of every player’s dream. But if you look at the history, it’s always the same teams with a few exceptions. So expanding the tournament to 96, it really should have gone from 64 to 96.”
Virginia’s Tony Bennett said at the time he didn’t want to overhaul the bracket, but wasn’t opposed to minor expansion.
“I think the NCAA tournament is arguably the best, from start to finish, the best sporting event going,” Bennett said. “I don’t want to lose what we have. If we have a little bit of expansion and it doesn’t take away and it’s not a major shift, I’d be for that. I would protect what we have, and if there’s little adjustments, a few more here and there, I’d be for that, but not a major overhaul.”
Auburn’s Bruce Pearl expressed similar thoughts to Medcalf last month.
“I think when we went from 64 to 68 [teams], it didn’t hurt anything,” Pearl said. “I would be [in favor of] adding a handful of teams. You can say, ‘Well, every year, there are going to be four or five teams that are left out of the tournament.’ OK? So let’s add four. I’m not for blowing it up. I’m not for 96.”
Meanwhile, Virginia Tech’s Mike Young echoed the majority of college basketball fans on social media when he said at last fall’s ACC media day he would opt for the status quo.
“I’m a purist,” Young said. “I don’t like it. … Why would we dabble with something that’s been so successful, that’s been so unique to the world of athletics, that is enjoying enormous popularity and has forever and ever?”