NCAA Appears on Verge of 96-Team Men’s Tournament

INDIANAPOLIS — The NCAA appears to be on
the verge of expanding the men's basketball tournament to 96 teams.

Insisting that nothing has been decided, NCAA
vice president Greg Shaheen nonetheless outlined a detailed plan
Thursday that included the logistics and timing of a 96-team tournament,
how much time off the players would have and even revenue distribution.

Shaheen said the NCAA looked at keeping the
current 65-team field and expanding to 68 or 80 teams, but decided the
bigger bracket was best fit logistically and financially.

It would be played during the same time frame
as the current three-week tournament and include first-round byes for 32
teams.

Although the plan still needs to be approved by
the Division I Men's Basketball Committee and passed on to the board of
directors, most of the details already seem to be in place.

"We needed to make sure that we did everything
possible to use the due diligence window to understand ourselves and
understand what the future would hold," Shaheen said. "So that's what
we're doing, that's the process we're undertaking. We've been handling
it every day for the last several months and years, as we studied for
the benefit of the organization."

The men's tournament last expanded in 2001,
adding one team to the 64-team field that was set in 1985.

The 96-team tournament would likely envelop the
32-team NIT, though Shaheen said no decision has been made on what to
do with the NCAA's other, independently operated season-ending
tournament.

The new format would start two days later than
the current 65-team field because it would eliminate the Tuesday play-in
game and would conclude on the same day, a Monday. It would be played
at one fewer venue — again, the play-in game — and the NCAA says it
would include no additional travel time for teams.

The first-round games for the 32 non-bye teams
would take place on Thursday and Friday, with the winners playing the
top eight seeds in each region on Saturday and Sunday. Winners on
Saturday would likely play again on Tuesday, and the Sunday winners on
Wednesday.

Those winners would then move on to the
regionals, playing alternate days starting on Thursday. Shaheen said the
NCAA hasn't decided on whether to keep the same sites for second and
first-round games or to make the midweek sites the same as the
regionals.

He also said the amount of time
student-athletes would be out of school would be roughly the same as the
current model, but teams that play in the opening round and keep
winning would actually be out an entire week of school instead of just a
few days.

"On a 96-team basis — vs. the current 97 teams
that the NCAA conducts through the championship and the NIT, for
example — you have, on a side-by-side basis, a reduction in the travel
time," Shaheen said.

Adding teams to the NCAA tournament could
create some monumentally lopsided games, or seeds in the 30s and 90s
playing each other. There might be less importance on the regular season
and conference tournaments; the resume wouldn't need to be padded so
much if more teams get in.

"I don't see any watering down at all,"
Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. "I think there are a number of teams
playing in the NIT that could have gotten in, and I think there will be
more people and more excitement with more teams in."

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said he would like
to see regular-season and conference tournament champions get automatic
bids to the NCAA tournament.

"The regular season would mean something," he
said. "There would still be bubble teams and all that, but we would
reward those teams accordingly. And I would still like the conference
tournament champions. They make a lot of money and celebrate each
conference. I think it's a way of each conference celebrating their
conference, which is a good thing."

Any plans to expand the tournament hinge on
the NCAA's $6 billion television deal with CBS.

The 11-year deal, signed in 1999, has a mutual
opt-out until July 31. The NCAA has already spoken with numerous
networks about expansion, so the opt-out is at least on the table, and
adding 32 more teams is certainly going to bring in more revenue.

The proposal is strictly for the men's
tournament. Another NCAA committee is looking at whether to expand the
women's tournament or keep it in the current format.

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