By the time you read this, the 2010 NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship tournament will be over. Hands will have been raised in triumph, tears will have been shed in defeat, and as the rabid college sports fans return to their caves to hibernate until next March, the columnists and talking heads around the country will emerge and return to discussions of the tournament’s destruction.
There’s long been speculation about increasing the size of the tournament. Many pundits advocate inflating the field to as many as 128 teams. Acting on such conjecture, the NCAA announced April 1 that it’s looking to expand to 96 teams in 2011.
If they go through with it, what we’ll have is a giant crushing a flower underfoot — the destruction of something beautiful. March Madness as it exists now is sport in its most pure and perfect form. Sixty-four games, single elimination. Gorgeous in its symmetry.
The result of the last expansion — or the first step in the wrong direction — was the addition of a 65th team in 2001.
This bit of inclusion resulted in the tournament’s “opening round” game, with the two lowest-ranked teams competing for the “coveted” 64th spot and the privilege of getting shellacked by a one-seed. No winner of this game (nor any 16-seed, for that matter) has ever beaten a one-seed. Ever!
What we can expect with an expanded field is more of the same: top-ranked squads embarrassing lesser programs. We’ll have a glut of pointless games with foregone conclusions. The Big Dance will become bloated and boring, like the monster the BCS has become.
You see, even with 64 teams competing, it’s still somewhat of a challenge to make it into the tournament (as ASU fans are well aware — zing!). This year, North Carolina, UCLA, Connecticut and Indiana — teams with 22 tournament championships between them — all missed the mark, and deservedly so. In their place we had the bracket-busting Northern Iowa and Butler.
For some reason, the decision-makers at the NCAA think this is a bad thing. They’d rather that the same group of popular squads qualify for the tournament every year, which is exactly what a field of 96 ensures. With more spots available, underperforming marquee basketball programs have a better chance of making it to the dance, which translates to more viewers and more money for networks and those who care about such things.
The problem is, like health care, the only people who really want it are the ones who have the power to make it happen. The powers that be at the top of college basketball will likely do what they can to maintain their idea of the status quo, which is only a bad thing for fans of upsets, the underdog and true competition, because we realize better than anybody: When everyone competes, nobody wins.
Zach is just getting over a horrible case of the March Madness. Send chicken soup recipes to firstname.lastname@example.org