Last month, word got out that the NCAA was looking to, among other things, expand the tournament from the current 65 teams to a proposed 96 teams. So a few days ago, I got to wondering, as a prelude to my first NIT bracket projections on Monday, how would a 96-team bracket look? At first glance, it's not pretty.
Here are the ground rules:
I pretty much extended the rules for 65 teams to get to 96 teams. I kept the same format as it is today with 8 cities hosting the initial rounds. (Since the first round cities have been announced through 2013, the NCAA would have to keep them right?) News articles think CBS (or ESPN or whoever would televise this) would need an extra week to do this, but really all you would need is two extra days tops. So just add it on to the existing hosting format. Instead of Thursday-Sunday, you could have it from Wednesday-Monday.
Once 2014 rolls around (or the NCAA breaks the contracts with the cities already committed to hosting the first rounds), I would suggest they let the 16 national seeds (the top 16 teams) host the first three rounds. This would also get rid of numbering teams to a 24 seed, like I have it in this bracket (I only kept it for easy comparison with today's modern bracket). Each 6-team pod would be seeded from 1-6.
In terms of the bracketing rules, the main thing I kept an eye on was to prevent rematches in the round of 96 and 64 and conference rematches in the round of 96, 64, and 32. Everything else became fair game. The existing rules would probably need to be simplified in such a way so that the committee can complete the bracket in a timely manner.
Here's the sample bracket! (Note: this has little bearing on the regular brackets I produce.)
Sorry Georgia, NC State, Kent State, and Oklahoma. You are the first 4 teams out.
The breakdown of teams by conference:
13 - Big East
11 - ACC
8 - SEC, Big 12
7 - Big 10
6 - Atlantic 10
5 - CUSA
4 - Colonial, Mountain West, Pac-10
3 - WAC
2 - Missouri Valley, Ivy, West Coast
So after doing this exercise, here are some pros and cons:
There are more teams! - Yes, there are 31 more teams, which means theoretically 31 more coaches are safe and 31 more schools get a piece of that tournament money for their conferences.
More openings for non-BCS teams - In my bracket, non-BCS teams got 14 of the 31 additional spots after receiving 6 out of 34 in last Monday's bracket.
The lower seeds have a better chance at advancing - The 16 seeds of today are usually one and done after facing a number one seed. However, in this format, they would be re-numbered as a 24 seed and would have to face the 9 then 8 seed in the first two rounds, a significantly easier path for Cinderella. At the same time, a 1 seed would get a more difficult opponent in its first game.
BCS dominance - It probably just applies to this bracket only but practically the entire Big East and ACC get to participate. Is that really spreading the wealth?
Say goodbye to the NIT - The NIT has been the home to the NCAA rejects lately and now that the NCAA owns the NIT, there really isn't a good reason to hold on to it.
Dull first round matchups - Before the NCAA tourney begins, how psyched are you to watch those first round NIT matchups on ESPN? Yeah, that's what I thought. Well, with the top 32 teams getting a bye for the first round, get ready for that, but renamed as the NCAA first round.
Large bracket - Did you see how large that bracket is? There would be too many teams to keep track of for the average person to stay focused. The pro for me would probably be I would not have to track 60-odd brackets in the matrix at the end of the year.
So, is it doable? Sure it is. Would I want it? Probably not. It's fine at 65. Maybe at most, 68. If to make the money work, the NCAA needs 80, that may also be palatable.