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NCAA basketball tournament 2010: More teams would make March Madness even better

By Dan Steinberg
Monday, March 15, 2010; E03

Wilbon's against it. Hamilton calls it "the worst idea in the history of sports ideas." Feinstein says it would defy common sense. And now Wise, too, is writing with dismay about the possibility of NCAA tournament expansion.

Yup, believe it or not, the old-timers are opposed to change.

Look, I could go either way on a 96-team field. But as someone who doesn't remember those bygone days when only 1 1/2 teams made the field, and young ruffians sneaked transistor radios under their comforters to listen to a glorious selection show untainted by corporate sponsors, and players had to walk uphill in both directions to get to tournament sites, and everyone liked it that way, I figured our readers deserved at least one reasonable look at the other side.

The regular season would be meaningless!!!!! Mediocrity would rule!!!!!

Division I baseball puts 21 percent of its teams into the postseason. Division I men's soccer so honors 24 percent of its teams. In Division I men's hockey, it's 28 percent. MLB puts 27 percent of its teams into the postseason. The NFL -- the most ridiculously successful sporting outfit in America -- rewards 38 percent of its teams.

Division I men's NCAA basketball is more selective than all of those organizations. Only 19 percent of its teams move on to the tournament. Even with expansion to 96 teams, only 28 percent of Division I schools would make the field. It would be almost as selective as the MLB playoffs, slightly less selective than Division I soccer and far more so than the NFL.

Expansion would ruin a perfect event!!!!!

"Never have more games been played for less purpose," thundered The Post's Ken Denlinger when the tournament expanded to its current number back in 1985. "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 Los Angeles Times's Mark Heisler asked then.

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

The arguments were exactly the same. 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 first round would be a mishmash of awful teams!!!!! No one would care!!!!!

The 8-9 games last season were decided by an average of just more than five points and were mostly great; Ohio State-Siena was one of the most memorable games of the first round. The 1-16 games were decided by an average of 32.3 points; I can't recall a single second of any of them. 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, which is the whole point.

Plus, I'd be a zillion times more likely to watch two C-plus teams play for a berth in the final 64 than an NIT championship game featuring the 66th- and 67-best teams in the country playing for a bag of wood chips and three sticks of bubble gum.

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

Gack, really? Fourteen of the past 20 champions have been No. 1 seeds. The other champions in that span have been either a No. 2 seed (three times), a No. 3 seed (two times) or a No. 4 seed (once). The vast majority of teams that make today's perfect field have almost no shot to win it all. Heck, an eighth of the field has almost no shot to win a single game; No. 15 and 16 seeds have an all-time record of 4-196. Expansion at least gives those teams a real chance to get a win.

Remember, George Mason was one of the final at-large teams to make the 2006 field. And if that 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 the supposedly god-awful teams in a 96-team field might create a bit of March magic of their own?

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

There are three things that have made the current tournament a mainstream success.

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

2) Bracket pools.

3) The first round, with its 12-hour weekday marathons that have people skipping work, gathered around televisions and generally submarining the economy for two days.

Two extra days of early-round games would do nothing to inhibit the first item. It would merely make scorekeeping a bit more complicated for the second item, and would dramatically improve the third item. Two more days of basketball that the whole country would watch together. Two more days of blowing off work. Two more days of awesome. Who could be opposed to that?

steinbergd@washpost.com

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