Expand March Madness

The veteran sportswriter weighs in on expanding the NCAA Basketball Tournament Field. As a favor for you basketball junkies, he also predicts who will walk away with the trophy on Monday night. However, don't bet your paycheck at some offshore sportsbook. If you must wager, just bet what you would put into a slot at Prairie Meadows Casino. The odds are much better than the one armed bandits.

When the pastor talks, I listen.

Rev. David Mumm, pastor of Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Des Moines and a frequent contributor to this column, e-mailed me after returning from a trip to Texas.

"On the way home from our vacation in Texas, I was listening to a sports channel (ESPN, I think), and one of the guests proposed an interesting idea relative to the college basketball season,'' he wrote.

"The concept is based on two premises: That no one really likes the postseason conference tournaments, and that there needs to be a more equitable way of including the fringe teams in the tournament.

"The proposal is this: 1. Eliminate all conference postseason tournaments; 2. Expand the field of 64 to a field of 256 teams; 3. Extend ‘March Madness' by one additional weekend; 4. Every team with a .500 or better season record is given a berth in the tournament based on their end-of-season ranking (the top four would be seeded No. 1 in each region); 5. Presuming that there will not be 256 teams with a .500 record, extend a first-round bye to all top-ranking teams, until the field is filled.

"By simply extending the tournament one weekend, and playing the same two rounds per weekend format, 256 teams would become 128, and 128 would become the field of 64.

"The more I've thought about this idea, the better I like it. This format would eliminate the teams like Butler that probably should have been in the field of 64, but were on the bubble. It would also eliminate the anomaly of a team with a losing record making it into the tournament by virtue of winning a postseason conference tourney.

"I would think this idea would generate revenue equal to or greater than the present format, as more teams would be invited to the ‘Big Dance.'''

I, too, am all for such a tournament format. I like the idea of giving more teams a chance to be in the Big Dance, and I also like adding one more weekend to the tournament.

After all, there is nothing quite like March and the NCAA tournament. And, just think, with an expanded format, Iowa would have made it into the NCAA and wouldn't have had to suffer the indignity of a first-round loss to LSU in the NIT.

In other seasons, Iowa State and maybe even Drake and Northern Iowa would make it into the NCAA with a 256-team field.

Of course, you'll need a sledgehammer to convince conference commissions to drop their postseason tournaments. They're big money-makers.

Another good thing-well, maybe not everyone will think it's a good thing--is that a 256-team NCAA tournament wouldn't necessarily kill the NIT. The only change would be that the NIT would be made up of teams with records of, say, 14-15 and 12-16.

Nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong at all with more college basketball. The more the merrier. This year, Drake, Northern Iowa and possibly Iowa State would have made it into the NIT-that grand old consolation tournament-with changes in the NCAA setup.

By the way, Iowa is the highest-ranked major-college team from our state in the Sagarin power rankings. The Hawkeyes (19-16) were No. 57, Iowa State (12-19) was No. 146, Northern Iowa (14-15) was No. 160 and Drake (14-15) was No. 171.

There were 327 schools that fielded Division I teams this season.

Kansas Will Win NCAA in an All-Big 12 Title Game!

I'm predicting an all-Big 12 Conference championship game in the NCAA tournament. Kansas will win the title, and Iowans Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich will, as usual, be major factors for the Jayhawks.

Oklahoma will beat Indiana, 75-67, and Kansas will outrun Maryland, 97-93, in Saturday's games.

Oklahoma will attempt to play its strong brand of defense in the championship game, but it won't be enough to slow Kansas. The Jayhawks will win, 86-75.

Back on the Same Team-First Drake, Now TCU

When Neil Daugherty was a Drake assistant basketball coach in 1988, the school's president was Michael Ferrari.

This week, Daugherty was named Texas Christian's new coach. The TCU chancellor is Ferrari, who has been at the school in Fort Worth since July 1, 1998. Daugherty is in his seventh season as an assistant to Roy Williams at Kansas.

"I know he was very, very highly respected by student athletes on the team (at Drake), and even though he was there only a short time he created quite an impact on campus,'' Ferrari told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

"I've followed his career since. He's had some wonderful role models, and we're very enthused about him and what he can for the (TCU) program.''

Daugherty was able to get his foot in the door at TCU when Steve McClain, the native of Orient, Ia., who has been a successful coach at Wyoming, said he wasn't interested in going to TCU after being interviewed.

McClain said he wanted to stay at Wyoming. But that didn't last long. Along came Arkansas with an invitation for him to interview for a job left vacant when Nolan Richardson was sent packing-with, of course, a financial buyout-after a messy couple of weeks.

But McClain didn't get the Arkansas job, either. That went Thursday to Stan Heath of Kent State.

Isn't basketball coaching a wonderful game of musical chairs?

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