Tourney Remains Intact

Phew! That was the general sentiment across the country when the NCAA announced the 68-team Men's Basketball tournament that will be played in 2011. Phog.net looks at one more thing the NCAA can get right.

It was a far cry from the 96-team rumblings that have occurred around the college basketball world for the last few months.

Hoops fans have spent the better part of the last couple of months with their finger inches away from the big red panic button over the seemingly ludicrous idea of expansion. Wednesday the NCAA restored order, for now.

It was announced that the 2011 version of March Madness would go on with just a few tweaks. Three changes to be exact - as in adding just a trio of teams to the field. The 65-team tournament is now 68 and not the 96-team bonanza that was lamented in blogs and message boards across the country for the last month.

It sure made me glad I held off writing a column on this topic until now. I wanted to wait until the NCAA made its final intentions known. It was tempting to write about the cash grab that putting together a 96-team tournament would be used for. The television contract with CBS was winding down and it wasn't such a reach that this crazy new bracketology could happen. Maybe I held off because I refused to believe that any governing body would mess with something so successful.

But this was the NCAA. Not the smartest of entities really and certainly they've been known to further complicate something that is rather simple and successful.

We all feared 96 teams would deem the regular season irrelevant. We worried about the amount of time away from campus for kids and the amount of travel. NCAA Vice President Greg Shaheen was questioned sternly at the Final Four in Indianapolis by best-selling author John Feinstein about the second week of the tournament and the amount of class kids would miss. Writers and fans believed it would be at least two rounds before any real competitive games would be played thus eliminating some of the excitement and competition provided by first two rounds. The NIT was about to go away and the NCAA was feeling the pressure of finding postseason action for those 32 teams. There was plenty of trepidation and a plethora of reasons NOT to do this, but it seemed inevitable.

I kept an open mind and listened to the opinions of coaches everywhere who seemed open change and willing to listen. There were a bunch who said we shouldn't be opposed to change and others who questioned ‘why do we need this?' It should be noted most coaches across the board are in favor of some type of expansion.

But first things first. The NCAA accomplished its biggest and most immediate goal signing a brand new 14-year television contract worth $10.8 billion dollars with Turner and CBS. For the fans instead of dealing with a 96-team shockwave now it's a guarantee that every game will be shown live for the first time on the bevy of channels featured by both networks. There are logistics to be sorted out and the details of the coverage vary but all the general fan needs to know right now is that all the games will be available via television coverage and online.

The hope is this new television deal will help alleviate some of the madness. If you didn't have the benefit of the DirecTV March Madness package and couldn't choose which game to watch locally it was unnerving waiting for the cut ins. CBS did a terrible job this year of choosing when to cutaway. I was thankful for the ability to use the remote to make my own educated decision. Not everyone was that lucky. Now with all games televised live hopefully this issue goes away for good.

The new 68-team tournament was passed unanimously by the committee so for now, all that is to be determined is how the "extra" three teams will fit into the wildness of March. So maybe we'll get what would REALLY create excitement which to me would be the last crop of teams in the tournament, yes, the bubble teams, playing for a spot and a right to compete. The new TV deal can't possibly be intrigued by a bunch of play-in matchups like Arkansas-Pine Bluff vs. Winthrop. But it surely would generate attention if Virginia Tech were playing Florida for the right to make the Dance. I don't believe the NCAA Tournament should necessarily force teams who earned automatic bids play for the right to really be "in".

The NCAA will not dismiss the idea of a further expansion down the road so were not out of the 96-team talk forever, but so far so good. For now it's a collective sigh of relief to one of the best tournaments in sports. The NCAA managed to make the right decision and secure a new television deal now one more good decision will generate some more excitement in what is already the most exciting "playoff" in sports.

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