Judging from the news conference held by Greg Shaheen and the NCAA, an expansion to 96 teams seems like a certainty. The only question would be will it happen after the NCAA opts out of its contract this year or after its contract expires in three years.
But for something they claimed to have studied since 2004, how could they get the schedule of the tournament so wrong? Shaheen lays it out this way. In total, it would stay in the footprint of the existing 65-team tournament but additional games would be played in the weekdays between the first and second weekends.
So if it were held this year, here's your schedule:
March 18-19: Round of 96
March 20-21: Round of 64
March 23-24: Round of 32 (Site Unknown)
March 25-26: Round of 16
March 27-28: Round of 8
April 3: Final Four
April 5: Championship Game
Students lose: As John Feinstein points out in his back-and-forth with Shaheen, it's possible the Sweet 16 will lose an entire week of classes. But it's worse than that. 96 teams have to wait until Sunday at the latest to play their first game. How much focus will there be on school when there's a tournament to be played in a few days? Better to get it out of the way sooner so that the focus on school can come back a lot quicker.
Teams lose: When I set up my 96-team bracket a couple of months ago, I set it up assuming 3 games would be played in first week. Why? It gives the top 32 teams more of a competitive advantage to be a top-8 seed because they would play a possible two games while the other 64 teams would have played 3 games that first week. Under the proposed model, it's quite possible during the second week, a top-8 seed would have to play 4 games in a week. That's no incentive. Plus, the round of 32 may occur at the regional sites, which would mean teams would fly out for 1 game for the round of 64 and then hurry onto the plane to get to the regional site, which is wasteful.
Fans lose: Specifically, fans who attend the games. If you want to follow your team around, you don't have a NCAA travel agent to help you with your flight the next day nor would you have the 3 or 4 days of lead time you have in today's format. And if your team truly is playing a maximum of 1 game at a first/second round site, why would you go?
I'm sure by the time the 96-team tournament begins, we'll be waiting in anticipation for the game between the 12th-place Big East team against the 3rd-place team from a conference most people have never heard of, but until then, there's still time to fix the logistics of such a tournament (or to leave things the way things are).