March Madness Will Add Another Round By Expanding to 68 Teams

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INDIANAPOLIS — March Madness
is about to get a little bit bigger.

The NCAA unveiled its plans for
the newly expanded 68-team men's basketball tournament Monday: Beginning
next March, eight teams will play early the opening week in a "First
Four" round, with the winners advancing to games on Thursday or Friday.

Two of the early games will match
the tournament's lowest seeds, Nos. 65 through 68. The other two games
will include the last four at-large qualifiers.

The format appears to be a
compromise. Including the lowest at-large teams will probably prevent
mid-majors from being over-represented in the first round, but it could
also mean that two teams from bigger conferences – those generally
seeded between 11th and 13th – will be out before the tournament really
gets going.

"You're not going to come up with
the perfect model," committee chair Dan Guerrero said. "You're not
going to come up with a model that is going to appease every
constituency out there. But we felt that this model provided the
opportunity to do something special for the tournament."

The NCAA announced in April that
it would add three teams to the field, the first expansion since the
tournament went from 64 teams to 65 in 2001 after going from 48 to 64 in
1985.

It was a hotly debated decision,
with critics saying the tournament is already as close to perfect as any
collegiate championship can be. Some pointed to Butler's run to last
season's championship game and George Mason's Final Four run in 2006 as
examples of parity.

The NCAA decided against a larger
expansion to 80 or even 96 games. Still, its new 14-year, $10.8 billion
television package with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting not only
ensures that every game will be televised but gives the NCAA sole
authority to expand again.

All four of the first-round games
will be broadcast on Turner's truTV cable channel.

There has been only one early
"play in" game since 2001, when the expansion to 65 teams essentially
added a 34th at-large team. Now, there will be 31 automatic bids and 37
at-large bids.

"Those teams and what would be
the 34th at-large team would create better drama, if you will, for the
tournament," Guerrero said.

The at-large teams will be
seeded where they would normally be placed in the bracket, meaning a
first-round game between two No. 10 seeds would result in the winner
advancing to play a No. 7 seed.

"I think some people are going
to look at it and say it looks like a compromise," said Laing Kennedy, a
retired Kent State athletic director who is on the men's basketball
committee that developed the new format. "What we look at is that it
really does preserve the integrity of the 31 automatic qualifiers."

The NCAA said there could be
games on both Tuesday and Wednesday. The Tuesday winners would play
Thursday and the Wednesday winners would play Friday.

The committee decided against
making the lowest eight at-large teams or the lowest eight overall seeds
to play their way into the final 64.

"In the end, we selected a
format that we felt allows us to break new ground," Guerrero said. "We
are excited about the concept of the First Four, and we are really
pleased with where we wound up and think that it would add value to the
tournament as we move forward."

Guerrero and NCAA vice president
Greg Shaheen noted that three of the four at-large teams wouldn't have
qualified at all under the 2010 format.

Still, they said the committee
was sensitive to the fact that some big-name teams could exit shortly
after the brackets are filled out.

"We took that into
consideration," Guerrero said. "That would have been the consideration
if all eight at-large teams had been a part of the 'First Four.' The
expanded tournament allowed for three new at-large teams to get into the
tournament. We felt it was appropriate since we had a 68-team model,
that those three teams be a part of that equation, along with the 34th
at-large team."

There was also concern that the
new additions will always be smaller schools. Since 2001, a school from
the Southwestern Athletic Conference has been sent to the early "play
in" game five times.

Dates and locations for the
first-round games have not been determined. Dayton, Ohio, which has
hosted the early game since 2001, is under consideration to host all
four "First Four" games.

"Dayton has been a great venue
and a great site for the opening-round game, and we anticipate
discussions relative to Dayton continuing in that regard," Guerrero
said. "However, as the committee looks at the possibilities of the
future, there could be a number of other scenarios that could come into
play. We are certainly looking at Dayton as the venue for the First
Four."

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