Donovan Favors Larger NCAA Field

There is growing support throughout college basketball for a increase in the size of the annual NCAA Tournament. The NCAA expanded the field to 64 in 1985 and more recently added the tacky "play-in" game to make it 65. When the NCAA went to 64 there were 282 schools playing Division I basketball. That number is now 347 – a 23 percent increase.

Suggestions for creating a larger event have ranged from a high of 256, which would add two rounds to the tournament, to a low of 68 which would simply add three more play-in games. Florida coach Billy Donovan says expanding the tournament would be fine with him.

"I always think that it's always better to include more (teams). That's just been me. I think there are people who are going to look at the 64-team field being tarnished (by expansion) or (feel like) it's great the way it is why ruin it."

Donovan certainly has a wide range of experience with regards to post-season basketball. His Gator teams have missed the post-season entirely ('97), barely got into the NIT ('98), made it to nine straight NCAA Tournaments ('99-07) and the last two years were among the final eight teams eliminated from the field.

"I felt bad for our kids the last couple of years when you're right there a game or two away from being in and you don't get a chance to go and there's a perception that if you're in the NIT or one of the other events that you're in a 'loser's tournament'. I don't believe that. Dave Odom (South Carolina) was very close to getting into the NCAA and ended up winning back to back NIT (tournaments) and I think that's an unbelievable accomplishment."

While that might be a fine accomplishment, it's also true that no one enters the season hoping to defend their NIT title. It's all about the Big Dance and trying to get on that one, special run and perhaps winning it all. Donovan says keeping that dream alive for even more teams would be a good thing for college basketball.

"I think any time you expand something when you are playing for that main trophy that everyone's trying to play for I think it's always a good thing to give more opportunity to more people. That's just my feeling. Now I don't know how all that works and how much they would add to the tournament, but I think every college coach would feel the same way."

And the Florida mentor also points out that more than half the football teams at the highest level get to take part in the post-season.

"I think it's the same thing in football where there are more bowl games popping up all the time, but it's almost like if you're not in the BCS Bowl it doesn't make a difference. I don't think that's the correct way to look it."


No formal proposals have been made, but the idea of a 96 team event seems to be generating some support. In such a format you would perhaps give first round byes to the top 32 teams in the field and have the next 32 teams host the bottom 32 in first round games during that first weekend. You then begin tournament play the following Wednesday with the field of 64 set.

One thing I like about that plan is you let the better teams rest up from their conference tournaments and you have a chance to bring a "tournament feel" to campuses all over the country. I would also propose that the first round losers make up the field for the NIT.


I have long advocated for an 80-team field, sending five teams to each of 16 locations. The top 48 teams would receive byes and there would be three such teams at each site. The bottom 32 (two per site) would play first round games and the winner would face the highest team at every site.

Expanding the number of locations for early play would generate a lot more excitement because you would have many more changes to place teams close to home. You would also be able to stagger the dates, so half the sites would play Wed-Fri-Sun while the others play Thu-Sat-Mon. My experience is that most first and second round games are played before small, indifferent crowds and this format would definitely generate more interest/excitement.

Another advantage is that each site has a winner that moved on to the Sweet 16. I'd even let them cut down the nets if they wanted to, but reaching the Sweet 16 should be celebrated.

So what do you think? Should the field be 64? 65? 68? 80? 986? 256? Or do you have your own format to push forward?

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