After ACC coaches proposed an expanded NCAA Tournament that would involve the 346 tournament-eligible teams this season, the NCAA announced on Sept. 10 that it is not considering plans to expand the tournament.
It was a bold idea led by Duke head coach Mike Kryzyzewksi and he had the unanimous support — and public approval in certain situations — of the rest of the ACC’s head coaches. It was unique, unprecedented and a logistical nightmare.
But it wasn’t a bad idea. Let’s look at why.
Before we begin, I understand that there’s a chance it was a ploy to eventually get the tournament committee to expand the field permanently. That means more money and that essentially every Power 5 team that isn’t embarrassingly bad will make the tournament every year. That’s not what we need, so this so-called mega tournament shouldn’t have impacted any future NCAA Tournaments or seasons.
But this is not going to be a typical regular season. Among the things still up in the air are whether or not a season will actually happen, when that season will start, if teams will have any sort of nonconference schedule and yes, whether or not there is an NCAA Tournament at all.
This is an unprecedented time, so why not do something unprecedented with the NCAA Tournament?
Every year there are at least 80 teams who think they have a real shot of making the NCAA Tournament. Some of them have better chances than others but every year the committee has more respectable resumes to look through than spots that can be awarded to teams. It’s a crapshoot to fill those last eight spots that aren’t occupied by conference winners or the best teams in the country.
In a normal season, the selection committee has roughly 35 games, give or take, worth of data for every team eligible for the tournament. Even then, there are resumes that look basically the same and it’s really hard to differentiate which one deserves a place in the field and which one doesn’t.
So what if there are only 18 games played? What if there is a setback and only 15 regular season, conference games are played? What if the schools that are online try to go in person starting in January and the whole thing blows up again?
All of these are possibilities and they all result in one thing. Fewer games. Fewer samples. Less data. Fewer head-to-head matchups, not as many Quadrant I, II or III wins or losses. The NET rankings, the NCAA’s evaluation tool for the tournament, is based on data and we’ve seen how dumb it can look when it doesn’t have enough numbers to plug in (see when Loyola Marymound, Belmont and Radford were in the top 25 of the first rankings in 2018).
So here’s the question, would you rather have 68 teams in the tournament while inevitably missing out on teams that have the exact same resume (there just weren’t enough spots or enough data) or a 346-team tournament that includes everyone and sets up the team that is hot at the right time and probably won’t produce the winner that is the best team in the country (which is the case most of the time anyways)?
I’m not sure there is a right answer to that question, but an all-inclusive tournament isn’t the dumbest idea in the world, especially if there is a drastically shortened regular season.
There are a lot of reasons to be skeptical about this. It’s a logistical nightmare. Where would this be played? It’s too big for any sort of bubble. On that note, more teams means more players and coaching staffs which means more people being put at risk than is probably necessary. Not to mention that it would take forever and displace these “student-athletes” for even longer than the NCAA Tournament usually does.
But when those things are set aside, I think it would be awesome. Whatever mistakes the committee makes in the format or seeding the teams then fine. The committee messes up the 68-team field every year anyways so that’s nothing new. All I know is that a 346-team tournament adds two or three games worth of chaos to the beauty that is the NCAA Tournament.
If it operates in a vacuum and only as an unprecedented tournament for an unprecedented time, I really don’t see the harm.
Photo by: bp6316 / Wikimedia Commons