In the past, we have pretty much decided that more March Madness is always a good thing. A certain chain of sports themed restaurants/bars recently started running a commercial where a patron was overheard making a comment that he wishes the tournament was bigger, so the bartender grabs his magic remote and presses a button marked “Expand” and Voila! The Anchorman comes on one of the giant TVs and proclaims the Tournament has been expanded to 256 teams. Everyone cheers, especially fans and players of teams that would not have had a prayer of getting in otherwise.
The reason that commercial is funny is because there is some truth to it. Every time the tournament expands, it has never gone back. Getting more teams in has never been a bad thing. Purists might complain that adding another bunch of teams cheapens the prestige of getting a bid to the NCAA Tournament. But really, is that a reason to keep teams who are as good or better than some of the teams that make it from getting an invite?
Coach Bob Knight has stated that he thinks the NCAA Tournament should expand to 128 teams. That might be a bit drastic. But in reality, if you take all the teams from the NIT, CBI, and CIT Tournaments, plus the extra four NCAA teams, that is 132 teams playing in the post season. Those teams can all come to the NCAA Tournament. The Tournament could star at the same time, just have four days of first round games, and push the remaining rounds back one week.
But a better solution might be to expand to 72 teams instead. The first round can be expanded to eight games instead of four games. That way, teams like Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Virginia, Maryland and such have a better chance to make it into the Big Dance. Instead of hand-wringing over the defending national champions not being invited, let them in. In fact, why do we have to have a pre-determined number of teams that will be in the tournament? Let the number of invites also be a mystery as well as who makes it in. If in some years, there just doesn’t seem to be as many worthy teams, have only one play-in game, or two play-in games. In years such as this when there were some good teams that didn’t quite make it, add more games. There were no games in the afternoon in Dayton. If there needs to be games added, hold them during the afternoon.
Or, we could seed each bracket 1-18 and the games in Dayton could be the 15 vs 18 seeds an the 16 vs 17 seeds. The 15s and 18s could play on Tuesday and the 16s and 17s on Wednesday. The 15-18 winners move on to play the number two seeds on Thursday and the 16-17 winners move on to face the number one seeds on Friday.
Or, an even better plan, in my opinion, is to make the play-in games a “Last Chance” round for the bubble teams. Not sure if Tennessee, Kentucky, Middle Tennessee, St. Mary’s, Boise State, or Maryland belong? How about we make them settle it on the court? Then the Last Chance round can technically be considered a regualr season game. Then teams that lose will not be able to say they played in the NCAA Tournament, therefore it does not cheapen the accomplishment of getting in.