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

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Shaheen went on in great detail about the travel schedule for the first week: Teams without a bye would be on the same schedule as teams have been on in the past but, he pointed out triumphantly, the teams with a bye could travel later in the week, arriving on site Thursday night for Saturday games and Friday night for Sunday games.

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That's where he stopped talking travel schedules, because for all intents and purposes no one who advances to the Sweet 16 is going home at all during the second week. Sure, such games could fall on spring break, but most schools take spring break earlier--in many cases during the first week of the tournament, meaning the extra day or two at home comes when there are no classes.

Most schools that advance to the round of 16 will play on Saturday or Sunday and then Tuesday or Wednesday and then again on Thursday or Friday. "Teams that play on Saturday could go home before their Tuesday game," Shaheen said later on.

Sure, most coaches are going to want to play a game Saturday, perhaps a late game, get on a plane, fly home and then (in almost all cases) get on a plane again on Monday to play their next game Tuesday. If Cornell is playing an hour from home in Syracuse, it might go home. Otherwise, forget it.

When Shaheen was pressed on the second-week schedule during the news conference (okay, by me), he kept referring back to the first-week schedule. He simply refused to answer the question about the second week. Later he said, "Well, it wouldn't affect that many teams."

So now it's okay for some "student-athletes" to miss an entire week of class? This isn't even taking into account some missed class time during the first week and the four days missed by the two teams that play for the national title during the final week, because the NCAA now requires teams to arrive at the Final Four site on Wednesday night.

All of this is coming from an organization that won't even touch the notion of a football playoff because of concerns about the "student-athletes" who would miss almost no class time if there was a football playoff in early January.

Look, this is about money and everyone knows it. Shaheen even made indirect reference to that when he talked about 88 other championships the NCAA conducts and the need to protect their financial futures. That protection comes from squeezing every possible dollar out of men's basketball. It was almost comical when someone asked if expansion was being contemplated for the women's tournament. The women's tournament costs money, so it isn't going to be expanded anytime soon.

Shaheen was also very careful to try to compartmentalize how expanding the tournament would affect college basketball. He noted that under the 65-team format, one team -- in theory -- might have to play seven games to win the title. Under the new format, he explained, two teams might have to play seven games.

That, of course, misses the point entirely. With 96 teams, the regular season is devalued because many mediocre teams will be rewarded with NCAA bids. If, as expected, regular season conference champions receive automatic berths, a lot of the magic of the conference tournaments in the so-called "one-bid" leagues will go away.

"We will promote Division I men's basketball in an unprecedented way during the regular season," Shaheen said, as if more of the NCAA's endless self-promotion is the way to ensure that college basketball continues to grow.

The bottom line is, of course, the bottom line. The tournament is going to expand, "student-athletes" will miss more class time, there won't be a football playoff, college basketball will still be a great game and the tournament itself will still be great fun, because it's so good even the NCAA suits can't destroy it.

Let's give them all a big round of applause for that, because if we don't do it, they will.

For more from the author, visit his blog at www.feinsteinonthebrink.com.


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