I am a die-hard Maryland basketball fan. I just suffered through one of the most gut-wrenching losses in the history of my life as a sports fan (at least it was Michigan State and not Duke). I am still in shock. That is all I will say about the result of the game.
With that said, the Maryland-Michigan State game was one of the best games of the 2010 NCAA tournament. In fact, a majority of these tournament games have been absolutely amazing. Stunning buzzer-beaters, absurd game-changing plays, major upsets. This year's tournament has had it all so far and the Sweet 16 hasn't even started yet. I've said it over and over again: This is the best playoff system in sports and expanding it to 96 teams would be a travesty. 65 teams (or even a play-in game for each region) is the perfect amount of teams for the post-season.
Some people are warming up to the idea of expansion, saying it won't dilute the quality of the field and the conference tournaments will still mean something. Some say it might be okay to allow more mediocre-or-worse teams a chance to play in the post-season and just implement a system with first-round byes.
Well guess what?
The quality of the field would be diluted. That is obvious. This year's at-large pool is already weaker than usual. So how wouldn't it get worse with the addition of 32 sub-par teams?
Expansion would absolutely make the regular season and conference tournaments meaningless. Some people already feel that conference tournaments don't mean anything with 65 teams (Syracuse still received a No. 1 seed after losing in the first round of the Big East Tournament). Look at Virginia Tech. Yes the Hokies may have been snubbed, but if they win a game in the ACC tournament, they make the NCAA tournament. That is called a meaningful game that actually has an impact on the team's post-season future.
First-round byes will not fix the problem of having a diluted field because that just generally wouldn't be fair. One of the best aspects of the 65-team field is that every team, besides the teams in the play-in game, has to win the same amount of games to be crowned champions. First-round byes eliminate that notion.
(And why can't the NCAA think about the fans instead of money for a change? Do you think a majority of college basketball fans really want to see the best 32 teams sit out on the best two days of the year? Hell no. Watching the best 65 teams play for two full days is what makes those two days the best of the sports year.)
But the majority of fans, analysts and writers understand that expansion is a horrible idea. All of this is widely known at this point.
There is a bigger issue here that not many seem to be grasping. Making the post-season needs to be hard. It needs to be tough. It needs to be a challenge. A team needs to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament. Expanding it to 96 teams creates a scenario in which there are no tough obstacles for teams during the regular season. Going to the big dance would become too easy. Almost every team from every big conference would be included.
For the major conferences (ACC, Big East, Big 12, SEC, Pac-10), if a team doesn't perform well in conference-play and in the conference tournament, that team doesn't deserve a bid to the big dance. It's that simple. The NCAA isn't going to explain that expansion won't dilute the field because it will. The NCAA isn't going to thoroughly explain that it's not just about making billions of dollars because that is what it's all about. This isn't about improving the tournament. It's about money.
The only way this tournament would be better is if there was actually a competent selection committee. Man, wouldn't that be nice? If the NCAA wants to make a change, how about forcing the selection committee to set clear-cut criteria on what it takes to make the NCAA tournament? That would eliminate any "snubbed" arguments about the lower rankings in the field. The seeding this year was absolutely horrendous.
It was basically common knowledge among everyone who watched college hoops this year that Temple and Cornell should have been seeded higher (and they shouldn't have played each other in the first round). Anyone who watched the Big East and ACC throughout the season knows that Syracuse is simply a better team than Duke. Yet, the selection committee can't quite grasp what most fans, analysts and writers understand as common knowledge.
The selection committee clearly had a tough of a time narrowing down the best 65 teams and seeding them correctly (maybe expanding the field to 96 teams is their way of taking the easy way out?... along with making billions of dollars). All the NCAA needs to do is create a selection committee that is competent and can handle the challenge of selecting and seeding the best 65 teams. Maybe that is the problem and not the actual format of the tournament.