NCAA EXPANSION: ‘WHAT CHOICE DO YOU HAVE?'

MANHATTAN, Kan. - The Final Four will always be the Final Four, but there's a good chance that it will soon take more wins to get there. Expansion to 96 teams, which would mean the elimination of the NIT, is almost guaranteed in the near future with that decision likely coming this summer.

Like it or not, the NCAA Tournament is going to get bigger.

Better? Now, that's yet to be determined, but there are three letters and several billion reasons why the 64/65-team event is about to become, most likely, a 96-team tournament.

The letters are CBS. The billions of reasons why have to do dollars and cents.

CBS currently has the television rights to the NCAA Tournament that carries a minimum of a $6 billion – that's with a ‘B' – contract.

Former Kansas State athletics director and now Deputy Commissioner in the Big 12 Conference says, "The monies generated from the NCAA Tournament provides 98 percent of what the NCAA uses to fund its entire operation, which includes all of championships in the other sports."

With that being said, when CBS talks, as Weiser says, "What choice do you have but to listen?"

Two years ago the NCAA purchased the rights of the 32-team National Invitational Tournament. Now, through the urging of CBS, the strong possibility is that the two events will merge into one 96-team event.

"The urgent piece of this is the financial concern," Weiser said. "CBS has three more years with the present agreement. If you wait until those three years are completed, the NCAA is going to be in the market place with Major League Baseball, the National Football League and the National Basketball Association, which all have contracts ending at the same time."

So the theory, says Weiser, is to renegotiate the contract as soon as possible instead of going head-to-head with the three professional sports television contracts.

"CBS has an interest in doing that, but they want additional inventory (teams) so they can produce more sales in advertising," said Weiser. "That's what's making this such an urgent subject."

Again, as he says, "What choice do we have?"

The NCAA made a presentation to the Big 12 Conference during the postseason tournament.

While nothing is written in stone, Weiser indicated that the top 32 seeded teams would receive a bye, while the remaining 64 teams would be bracketed for first-round play. The 32 winners would join the 32 teams that received a bye for what we have today, which is a 64-team tournament.

To that notion, K-State coach Frank Martin votes ‘No.' If there's expansion, he would want the field doubled to 128 teams.

"I don't see why anyone should receive a bye in the NCAA Tournament," Martin said. "Why should you have to win six games, and I have to win seven? That's not fair."

Martin then points to how 68 out of 120 Divisions I football teams play in bowl games, but only 65 out of 347 Divisions I basketball teams play in the NCAA Tournament.

He then adds, "What's another set of games? But Weiser has concerns about the extra set of games whether it is 32 games, or 64 games.

"What the NCAA has not addressed is missed class time and how fans are going to travel," Weiser said. "If you're not among the top 32 teams, now there's the possibility of going straight from a team's postseason tournament, to a first round game, and then possibly to yet another site without the team ever coming home.

That presents an issue of missed class time, and realistically, how many fans can take a two-week vacation to follow their team?"

One of the functions of the Big 12 Championships at the end of the year is to give teams an opportunity to play their way into the NCAA Tournament. With a 96-team field, and certainly a 128-team lineup, it's a good bet that at least 10 league teams will always be in the NCAA field.

To those that say it would "water down" the tournament, however, Martin says, "That's hog wash. That's people who just don't want change." Martin says if the NCAA is honestly about the student-athlete, "… why limit the number of opportunities to play in the NCAA. Give more kids the opportunity to experience what our kids just experienced. It's something that will stick with them the rest of their lives."

But with expansion comes multiple questions. "One of the questions that will come is, ‘What's the need for the postseason tournament?' " Weiser asked. With an expanded field, he continued, "Maybe we would be better served with some type of preseason tournament like the Big 8 had several years ago."

And, Weiser wonders, "If the men expand to 96, the women very likely will expect the same thing."

The NCAA has indicated with a bigger field that the men's and women's NCAA tournaments would be staggered with the women's tourney starting one week later.

"Does that mean we separate our men's and women's postseason sites?" asked Weiser. "The women's tournament maybe would stand alone in Oklahoma City, but would it in Kansas City if Kansas State and Kansas weren't top-ranked teams?"

And, yet another concern from the Big 12 is how much each game, or unit, is worth. Today, teams nation-wide receive $225,000 for playing in an NCAA Tournament game. With an expanded field and additional travel expenses, Weiser wonders, "What happens if that unit all of a sudden is worth only $100,000?"

Weiser adds, "To me, it doesn't seem like anything is broken, but I'm not sure if we have a choice."

Based on the feedback he's received, Weiser thinks a 32-team expansion will be approved this summer.

NCAA TOURNAMENT HISTORY


1939 – 8-team field
1951 – Field expanded to 16 teams, which included 10 spots for conference champions
1953 – Field expanded to 22 teams, fluctuating between 22 and 25 teams until 1974
1957 – Largest media group ever attended the event in Kansas City – 11-station TV network and 64 sports writers
1963 – Television rights sold for total of $140,000
1966 – Net income for the tournament went over $500,000 for the first time
1973 – NBC reported title game had the highest-rated basketball telecast of all time
1974 – Field expanded to 32 teams
1979 – Field expanded to 40 teams
1980 – Field expanded to 48 teams
1983 – Field expanded to 53 teams
1985 – Field expanded to 64 teams
1991 – CBS signs seven-year agreement for $1 billion
1995 – CBS replaces contract with $1.725 billion deal through 1995
1999 – CBS signs new 11-year agreement starting in 2003 calling for a minimum of $6 billion
2009 – Final Four telecasts went to 153 countries around the world.


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