NCAA Tournament Expansion Hated By Fans, Inevitable
Family friend Jim Burton, a colleague of my wife’s, points to a new poll showing overwhelming public opposition to expansion of the NCAA basketball tournament.
In a survey released yesterday by Public Opinion Strategies, a solid majority (59%) of basketball fans oppose expanding the NCAA tournament from a 64 team tournament to a 96 team tournament. Just 29% of college basketball fans support expansion and ten percent are undecided.
The survey was conducted April 11-13 among 800 likely 2010 voters and 40% of those interviewed identified themselves as college basketball fans.
Among all voters, the results are 20% total favor/46% total oppose. College basketball fans feel strongly about the proposal because intensity is twice is high among opponents (38% strongly oppose) than supporters (16% strongly favor), which will hopefully serve as a warning sign for NCAA officials.
Jim hopes the NCAA is listening but, alas, they’re not. While the symmetry of the 64/65 game tournament is terrific — it makes for a great bracket and increases the odds of a Cinderella team advancing deep — the counterargument is a slam dunk:
Mo Games = Mo Money
Certainly, the tourney has expanded numerous times in the past — including within my memory — with no loss of interest:
* 1939—1950: eight teams
* 1951—1952: 16 teams
* 1953—1974: varied between 22 and 25 teams
* 1975—1978: 32 teams
* 1979: 40 teams
* 1980—1982: 48 teams
* 1983: 52 teams (four play-in games before the tournament)
* 1984: 53 teams (five play-in games before the tournament)
* 1985—2000: 64 teams
* 2001—present: 65 teams (with an opening round game to determine whether the 64th or 65th team plays in the first round)
The earlier expansion rounds were justified on the basis of fairness: Great teams from great conferences were being shut out because only one team from each conference, usually the winner of the conference tournament, went to the tournament. But, with 65 teams getting a shot, it’s hard to argue that we’re leaving out anyone with a realistic chance of winning.
The proposal being floated around — and almost sure to be implemented by next season — is to do away with the meaningless National Invitational Tournament (the venerable NIT’s glory days are decades in the past) and roll it into the big dance. The top seeds would get byes and the worst seeds would play a compressed schedule of games. It’s doable and fans will come to accept it. But it may well destroy some of the magic of the current format, which manages to get casual fans such as myself interested.
But the NIT is essentially worthless to the NCAA (if it’s being televised, it’s not being watched) and adding more games gives the TV networks more games to bid on. It’s a win for the networks, the NCAA, coaches on the bubble, weak sister schools, and pretty much everyone else. Except, it would seem, fans of college basketball.