NCAA to Expand March Madness From 65 to 68 Teams

INDIANAPOLIS — The NCAA has
decided not to mess around too much with March Madness.

College sports' largest governing
body announced a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal with CBS and Turner
Broadcasting on Thursday that will begin with an expanded men's
basketball tournament next March. But instead of jumping to a 96-team
field, a possibility that drew criticism from bracket-obsessed fans to
coaches, the NCAA plans to expand by only three teams, from 65 to 68.

Every game will be broadcast live
nationally for the first time in the tournament's 73-year history.

"It was a goal from the very,
very beginning and I believe it's what our membership wanted and it's
what our fans wanted across the country," NCAA interim president Jim
Isch
said. "I think without question, it was one of the driving factors
in our position and why CBS and Turner make such great partners."

Striking a balance was a
challenge for NCAA officials.

The previous television deal,
which gave CBS Sports the broadcast rights for $6 billion over 11 years,
would have expired in three years. Both sides had opt-out clauses that
had to be exercised by July 31 and the NCAA was preparing to do just
that. The hope was to create a bidding war and strike a lucrative deal,
generating more money for NCAA payouts to schools.

CBS Sports won the war, beating
out at least an offer from ESPN. What's new is that CBS will share
broadcast rights with Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting System Inc. and
its stable of cable channels — TNT, TBS and truTV — from 2011 through
2024.

The NCAA won, too: Isch said the
new deal will provide an average of $740 million per year that will
returned to conferences and schools.

Just a few weeks ago, a
much-bigger NCAA Tournament seemed like it was all but a done deal.

During a news conference at the
Final Four, NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen was hounded by questions
about how many more classes players would miss to play in additional
tourney games. College basketball analysts often called the 65-team
format the perfect size, suggesting more teams would water down the
tourney. Some coaches, whose jobs often hinge on tourney appearances,
even rejected the notion that adding so many teams was a good thing.

Well, the NCAA apparently got
the message as did the networks.

"We are very comfortable with
68, that's what the deal is based on and it meets all our financial
needs and programming needs," said Sean McManus, president of CBS News
and Sports.

The men's tournament hasn't
expanded since 2001 when it added one team to a 64-team field that was
established in 1985. The National Association of Basketball Coaches has
long advocated expansion, citing the fact that while the number of
Division I teams has expanded greatly over the last quarter-century.

Next Thursday, the NCAA Board of
Directors can approve a plan that is likely to add three more opening
round games — one in each region — to the one that has been played since
2001.

Some coaches think Thursday's
move is a good start.

"As a coach I'd like to see more
people get in but 68 is a good step and the easiest way, to have the
least amount of turmoil," said Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim of
Syracuse. "It's better than nothing. There's really no way to do a
little bit bigger expansion. You can't expand by eight, 10. There's no
way to figure that out."

Others, like fellow Big East
coach Jim Calhoun of Connecticut, were less enthusiastic.

Calhoun pointed to this year's
tournament, which included deep runs by Cornell, Northern Iowa, Xavier
and national runner-up Butler, suggesting changes to the format were
unnecessary.

"I have a tough time seeing why
we have to change a concept that has been so good," Calhoun said. "This
year, the parity was incredible. If you have something that has become
magical and what has enhanced it is not more games, but the Butlers and
the parity. Those things are what have done it. George Mason. It's been
proven time and again."

Beginning next year, everything
through the second round will be shown nationally on the four networks.
CBS and Turner, an entity of Time Warner Inc., will split coverage of
the regional semifinal games, while CBS will retain coverage of the
regional finals, the Final Four and the championship game through 2015.

Beginning in 2016, coverage of
the regional finals will be split by CBS and Turner; the Final Four and
the championship game will alternate every year between CBS and TBS.
Under the agreement, the NCAA and CBSSports.com will again provide live
streaming video of games, though Turner secured rights for any online
player it develops.

Could the tourney still go to
96?

Yes.

While Isch and Shaheen said this
year's expansion was not an indication the NCAA was already looking
toward more expansion, they didn't completely rule out the possibility
of another expansion. And the broadcast deal also gives the NCAA the
right to expand the field at its own discretion.

"That deliberation can go in
whatever direction they would like, but there is no expectation of any
discussion in the near future," Shaheen said.

The biggest winner was Turner
Broadcasting.

The network, started by former
Atlanta Braves owner and entrepreneur Ted Turner, has instantly gone
from televising no college basketball games to getting one of the
nation's biggest and most beloved sporting events — including the
championship game just six years away.

"Crowning a champion on TBS is
something we've never done. So to crown a champion on the Turner Network
is something we're very proud of," David Levy, president of sales,
distribution and sports for Turner Broadcasting, told The Associated
Press. "I can't tell you about the financials, but both CBS and
ourselves are very confident this deal will be meaningfully profitable
over the life of this contract."

Turner Broadcasting and CBS
outbid ESPN for the tournament rights, a rare loss for a network that
owns broadcast rights for other NCAA championships including the women's
tournament, as well as the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA. ESPN
has had a niche for covering college basketball since its earliest days
on cable television.

But when the biggest prize was
on the auction block, ESPN came up short.

"We made an aggressive bid and
believe our combination of TV distribution, digital capabilities,
season-long coverage and year-round marketing would have served the
interests of the NCAA and college fans very well," ESPN spokesman Josh
Krulewitz
said.

How critical is the deal to the
NCAA? More than 95 percent of the governing body's total revenue comes
from the broadcast rights to the men's basketball tournament.

And it was clearly important to
New York-based CBS. McManus said the "new strategic partnership" was a
core asset and a profitable one, though he hinted that annual payments
of $700 million over the last three years of the original deal were a
load.

"We were prepared to do the last
three years of the current deal, it was no secret that those three
years would be very challenging," he said. "But this deal was based on
the NCAA coming to us saying that we would like a new deal in place."

A 96-team field would have
likely enveloped the 32-team NIT, the NCAA's other, independently run
season-ending tournament. Instead, the expansion is much more modest.

"I think it's the right step,"
ACC commissioner John Swofford said. "The NCAA Tournament is obviously
something that's very special, the nation connects with. I think this
relatively minor adjustment is the right way to go. I think its good for
conferences and the regular season. I think it's good for conference
tournaments."

Big East commissioner John
Marinatto
agreed.

"I was pleased that the NCAA
preserved the character and integrity" of the tournament, he said. "It's
elegant and they kept the elegance in it, by only expanding by three."

Gene Smith, the Ohio State
athletic director and incoming NCAA Tournament committee chairman, said
he was happy with the decision.

"They understood that we had a
great tournament this year with high ratings and a high level of
excitement," he said. "It was thought that 96 teams would generate more
money to support the NCAA's many sports and initiatives. But we were all
able to come to an understanding that gives us the support without
adding that many teams."

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

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