That gust of wind you felt Thursday? A collective sigh of relief from college basketball fans, pundits, bloggers and coaches – yes, even coaches – at the news of the NCAA tournament expanding to 68 teams.
For the last month or so, everything seemed pointed toward an expansion of 96 teams. But perhaps the online petitions, protest groups and endless columns about why 96 is a bad idea actually got through to the NCAA.
Or maybe the NCAA just made the canny move to make us all think 96 was evitable, so the news of 68 teams would seem fabulous. (Too cynical? Nah…)
Anyway, the official announcement won't be until April 29, but it sounds as if everything's ready to go with a new 14-year deal that'll have CBS and Turner broadcast the tournament. (No, really, it's a go. Probably.)
The $10.8 million deal will put every game on TV, though you may have to watch Tru TV to find some of 'em. That's good for fans and good for the three additional teams that will be added. Starting next year, every game will be shown live. CBS will retain coverage of the regional finals, Final Four and title game through 2015, while the networks will split those duties starting in 2016. The NCAA will still stream games online. (There are far more details to be found here.)
Not that everyone's a fan of the expansion.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, a longtime proponent of a bigger tournament, still wants more teams, but said 68 was OK for now. "You can't expand by eight, 10. There's no way to figure that out," he told the AP. "This is the easiest way and hopefully down the road there will be a bigger expansion."
Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun took the opposite stance.
"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."
Too late. Now the complaints center on what will be done with extra teams.
Instead of one play-in game on the Tuesday after Selection Sunday, there'll now be four. While the obvious thing to do would be to have the winners of those four games play the No. 1 seeds (like this), some are pushing for the play-in games to be only at-large teams and not automatic bids like Belmont, Winthrop or North Texas. Instead, have those at-large bids play the 5-seeds, or something similar.
This year that would've meant schools like Minnesota, UTEP or Utah State playing on Tuesday, then playing their matchups.
Is that better? Worse? Fair? Who knows.
But now that 96 is (likely) out, everyone's gotta argue about something.
Mike Miller's also on Twitter, usually talkin' hoops. Click here to follow him.