Next Thursday will mark the beginning of March Madness, arguably the most exciting event in all of college sports. Its playoff system separates it from the inferior bowl system that college football uses, and men and women alike obsess over their bracket predictions in hopes of pride (because gambling is totally illegal). It’s a three-week roller coaster ride filled with victory, teamwork and most of all, great basketball. In addition, it’s without a doubt the best paced event, with little time between games, so there’s always something to watch.
That’s why I don’t understand why the NCAA is rumored to increase the number of teams in the tournament from 65 to 96. Sure, more teams will get an opportunity to play and schools would get some extra revenue, but it runs the risk of diluting competition. If the NCAA expands the field, there could be a negative impact on the quality and popularity of the tournament in the future.
Let’s be honest here. The only reason the NCAA is proposing this new format is simply because of money. More teams in the tournament means more televised games, more ticket sales and more advertising dollars. Universities are scrambling for dollars with lower enrollments and higher costs, and traditional sources of revenue, like state funding and university endowments, are decreasing. While adding more teams to the tournament would ensure that more schools get an extra source of revenue, it may be short-lived.
While Cinderella stories, like George Mason University from a few years back, are memorable, they are hardly commonplace. The lowest seeded team to ever make the Final Four was No. 11 George Mason in 2005, and the lowest to win the tournament was No. 8 Villanova University in 1985. Very few low seeded teams even win a game, let alone a championship. Sure, there’s usually one team every year that wins a couple games and gets the support of the country, but a Cinderella team actually advancing to the meaningful stages of the tournament is quite rare. If that is the case, why add these extra teams, knowing that they will all probably lose once they get in? Is a University of Kansas and Duquesne University game really going to add more viewers and money? If anything, adding more teams is merely going to allow people to skip the early rounds of the tournament and wait until the worthy teams start playing each other.
If you want to know what the future would be like for the tournament if teams are added, look no further than college football. Getting invited to a bowl game used to be an accomplishment. Now, more than half of the Division I football teams go to a bowl game, and there are very few matchups worth watching outside of the Bowl Championship Series bowl games.
The NCAA needs to look at the big picture. It gets a mind-boggling $500 million each year from CBS to cover college basketball and the tournament, which makes up more than 90 percent of the association’s entire revenue. While the expansion could add a few more million dollars, why risk losing money in future television deals if the move backfires?
For the sake of March Madness, the NCAA needs to reconsider its position.
Pat Burns is a junior news-editorial journalism major from Plano.