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Posted at 09:38 AM ET, 03/12/2010

NCAA tournament expansion would be a good thing

Mike Wise is writing a column for Monday's paper about why NCAA tournament expansion is a bad thing. And he'd like your help. He's attempting to come up with 65 reasons why expansion would be bad. He asked me to solicit some suggestions. Please leave them in the comments below.

But as long as he brought it up, here's why he -- and everyone else -- is wrong, and why NCAA tournament expansion would not be a bad thing at all. I'm sort of indifferent about the whole matter, but I find most of the arguments against to be lame, contradictory, predictable and unconvincing.

Expansion would ruin a perfect event!!!!!

"College basketball is bigger than ever, played better than ever, richer than ever -- and also sicker than ever," The Post's Ken Denlinger wrote when the tournament expanded to its current perfect number back in 1985. "Never have more games been played for less purpose. Because 64 teams are allowed into the NCAA tournament, regular seasons are as watered as drinks in a cheap bar; conference tournaments are meaningful only to distressed teams hoping for a miracle."

"Are you sure a 64-team tournament isn't a little too large? Like about 32 teams too large?" The L.A. Times's Mark Heisler asked then. "Well, CBS likes it, so it must be OK." ("The NCAA tournament has been opened to 64 teams, which makes the regular season correspondingly irrelevant," Heisler wrote earlier that year.)

"These days, with 64 teams in the field, if you aren't an NCAA tournament team, you have to be pretty bad," snarked The Post's John Feinstein, who, 25 years later, is now defending a 64-team field as "the perfect number."

"At its 78th convention, the NCAA expanded its come-anybody tournament to 64 teams, effective in 1985," the San Diego Union-Tribune Ed Zieralski griped the year before. "Now semi-tough-luck teams with 12-16 records against semi-mean competition have a semi-shot."

"To go beyond the present system would be to accommodate those teams that don't have a chance to win," said Dave Gavitt, an opponent of expansion.

The arguments were the same. Identical And 64 teams turned out to be as fantabulous as a cheap bar, an unprecedented boon for college hoops. Who's to say more wouldn't be better again?

The regular season would be meaningless!!!!! Every team would make it!!!!! Mediocrity would rule!!!!!

Division I baseball puts 21 percent of its teams into the postseason. Division I soccer puts 24 percent of its teams into the postseason. Major League Baseball puts 27 percent of its teams into the postseason. The NFL -- the most ridiculously successful sporting outfit in America -- puts 38 percent of its teams into the postseason. The NHL and NBA put more than half their teams into the postseason.

Division I men's NCAA basketball is more selective than all of those organizations. Only 19 percent of teams move on to the tournament. As a nation, we love the postseason, and at some point, with more and more teams joining Division I, the percentage will be too low.

Even with expansion to 96 teams, only 28 percent of Division I schools would make the tournament. It would be just as selective as Major League Baseball, slightly less selective than Division I soccer, and far more so than the NFL.

The heavyweights would get first-round byes!!!!! No fair!!!!!

Now hold on, that's just a ridiculous argument. You can't simultaneously say the regular-season would be rendered meaningless, and then argue that the regular-season's best teams would be unfairly rewarded. In fact, first-round byes for the top 32 teams would be a great prize for regular-season success, and an incentive to keep playing hard even after a berth was essentially clinched.

The first round would be a mishmash of awful teams!!!!! No one would care!!!!!

When I'm watching, say, 8th-seeded Oklahoma State eek out a two-point win over 9th-seeded Tennessee, as happened last year, I don't give a hoot that both teams had double-digit losses in the regular season, or that neither came close to winning its conference. I watch it because it's fun, I want to see how my bracket does, it's an even pairing, and I like watching championship sports.

Same with 9th-seeded Siena sliding by 8th-seeded Ohio State, one of the most memorable first-rounders a year ago. In fact, the first-round games pitting good mid-majors against mediocre powers are often the best, the fairest, and the hardest to predict.

The four 8-9 games last season were decided by an average of about five points. The four 1-16 games were decided by an average of about 32. We need more of the former, and fewer of the latter. Let Winthrop take its first shot against an average Big East team instead of a great one; it'll be fascinating, and it'll be fun.

And for the record, I'm a zillion times more likely to watch a mediocre 8-9 fist-round game than I am the NIT championship game, featuring the 66th- and 67- best teams in the country, because for the average sports fan, the NIT might as well be a Spring Training split-squad scrimmage. But throw those same two teams into a first-round NCAA game, and I'm there.

The 73rd team wouldn't have a legitimate shot to win it all, so why bother!!!!!

Gack, really? Fourteen of the last 20 champions have been one seeds. The other champions in that span have been either a two seed (three times), a three seed (two times) or a four seed (once). The vast majority of teams that make this perfect tournament right now have no shot to win it all. Heck, an eighth of the field has virtually no shot to win a single game; 15 and 16 seeds have a combined record of something like 4-196, if I'm not mistaken. This at least gives those teams a real chance to get a win.

And yet, as has often been noted, George Mason was one of the final at-large teams to make the 2006 field. The Patriots were completely outclassed by Florida in the Final Four, which didn't mean their four previous wins weren't worth watching, weren't special and unforgettable. And if that Mason team could win four tournament games after losing in the regular season to, among others, a 15-15 Mississippi State team that finished 5-11 in the SEC, isn't it possible to imagine that some of these supposedly godawful teams in a 96-team field might create a bit of magic of their own?

The NCAA tournament as pop-culture phenomenon will die!!!!!

There are three things, in my mind, that have made the current tournament a pop-culture success.

1) Fantastic endings, dramatic upsets, and general basketball excellence.

2) Bracket pools. (This is the only reason my parents watch, for example.)

3) The first round, with the absurd number of games, the all-day marathons that have people skipping work and gathered around televisions and hitting refresh on their browsers every 10 seconds.

Two extra days of early-round games would do nothing to inhibit the first item, would merely make score-keeping a bit more complicated for the second item, and would dramatically improve the third item. Two more days of weekday games that you're invested in, more invested in than the pre-double-bye-extra-play-in-first-round of the Big East tournament. Two more days of basketball that the whole country would pay watch together. Two more days of awesome.

And seriously, I can't be the only one who feels a tiny bit empty after the first weekend is over.
Sure, the better games happen later in the tournament, but the first weekend is the magical one; four games at once, weekday afternoons filled with joy, a cavalcade of action. How is extending that for two more days possibly a bad thing?

Anyhow, please help Wise come up with more reasons why this is a terrible idea. Your country is depending on you.

By  |  09:38 AM ET, 03/12/2010

Categories:  College Basketball

 
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