Pearl on expansion

Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl figures increasing the NCAA Tournament basketball field from 65 to 68 teams was a step in the right direction ... but it was too small a step.

"I was sort of a 72 (team) guy," he said during a Thursday news conference. "If you added seven to the field of 65, I think that would have gotten all those (deserving) teams off the bubble - Mississippi State this past year, Virginia Tech this past year, Illinois, maybe Ole Miss and South Carolina this past year.

"I think it could have cleared up the injustice of some of those bubble teams (not making the field). I don't know that three (additions) is going to do it. I don't know that three isn't going to leave four more that should have been in (the field). I thought if they were going to expand by three, then expanding by seven really wouldn't have made that much difference. That was my preference."

The NCAA is looking to expand the tournament field to 96 teams in the near future. In fact, a lot of analysts thought it would happen in time for the 2010-11 season.

"Ninety-six I would have been OK with, if it was that or nothing at all," Pearl said. "I was in favor of expansion."

The NCAA Tournament expanded from 32 teams to 40 in 1979, from 40 to 48 in 1980, from 48 to 52 in 1983, from 52 to 53 in 1984 and from 53 to 64 in 1985. A play-in game was added in 2001, bumping the total involvement to 65 teams.

Although he is in favor of expansion, Pearl noted that, "I'm also big on ‘If it's not broke, don't fix it.' Our tournament wasn't broken. In fact, this was probably as good a year as the tournament has seen in a long, long time.

"I don't think adding three teams is going to fix that bubble. And there were too many good teams that were on that bubble - too many (regular-season) conference champions and 10- or 11-game winners in high major conferences. But it's better than nothing."

Odds are, the addition of three teams is merely Step 1 in a process that eventually will boost the field to 96 teams.

"It wouldn't surprise me at all if, within the framework of the contract with CBS, they move toward 96," Pearl conceded. "I still think 96 is not out of the question. It's just out of the question for next year."

Many basketball traditionalists like the current 65-team format and figure going to 96 teams would create a "watered-down" tournament. Pearl disagrees.

"That's a term that's been used," the Vol coach noted, subsequently adding: "But just take the NIT field and throw Dayton and North Carolina and Rhode Island and Mississippi State and Ole Miss into the (NCAA) Tournament. I don't think it would be terrifically watered down, especially if you went to 96 teams and gave the top 32 teams a first-round bye."

Ultimately, Pearl figures the move from 65 to 68 teams accomplished very little.

"I don't think three teams is going to make much of a difference," he said. "And maybe they (NCAA leaders) want it that way, because in January everybody's talking about who's on the bubble. It gives (the media) something to write about and talk about."


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