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On men's basketball tournament expansion, the NCAA talks a big game

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By John Feinstein
Friday, April 2, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS

If there was any doubt about the NCAA's intention to expand the men's basketball tournament to 96 teams, it went away on Thursday afternoon.

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That's not to say anyone gave any straight answers during the NCAA's annual Final Four news conference, which isn't really a news conference but rather a chance for the suits to come in and tell everyone that all is right with their world.

They made sure everyone knew that more "student-athletes" are graduating -- that's counting all 347 Division I programs, many of whom have no chance to compete on the basketball court, but let's not go there. They also reminded everyone that the selection committee (again) did a fabulous job putting together the tournament, even if it insists that everything it does be kept top secret.

But that was all just the warmup act for Greg Shaheen, who is an NCAA vice president but also, far more importantly, the guy steering the expansion ship from inside NCAA headquarters. Shaheen is a bright, capable guy who has done a lot of good things since the late Myles Brand brought him to the NCAA as his right-hand man six years ago.

His assignment Thursday was to explain how the 96-team field will work and then try to convince people that no decisions have been made. "This could all be a discussion about nothing," he said at one point.

Right. And coaches get fired for not graduating enough players.

Here is how the tournament will play out in case you haven't, like the NCAA, been "studying models."

-- The top 32 teams -- eight in each region -- will receive byes. The remaining 64 teams -- seeds No. 9 through 24 in each region -- will play first-round games at eight sites on Thursday and Friday after Selection Sunday. The play-in game mercifully goes the way of the Edsel.

-- The second round, with 64 teams still playing, takes place on Saturday and Sunday. The round of 32 moves into the second week and in all likelihood is played on Tuesday and Wednesday. Whether those games take place at the first- and second-round sites or at the region sites is still undecided. Either way, the round of 16 is Thursday and Friday as in the past and the rest of the tournament plays out as it has since 1973: region finals on Saturday and Sunday, Final Four the following Saturday and national title game on Monday.

"This should mean the same travel time and missed class or perhaps less for most student-athletes than in the past," Shaheen said.

Gee, that sounds good. There's just one problem: It isn't true.


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