Expansion of March Madness field to 96 teams is a mistake

The proposed expansion will reward mediocrity and dilute the tournament.


Millions of sports fans will be glued to their TVs tonight as March Madness concludes. The Butler Bulldogs -- make that Underdogs -- are taking on the Duke Blue Devils for the NCAA men's basketball championship.

Frankly, there is nothing like a David vs. Goliath storyline to fuel ratings.

And this is one of the reasons the NCAA is now poised to expand the field for its popular basketball tournament from 65 teams to 96.

It's a mistake.

Sure, the NCAA and the various universities will make more cash with an expanded field, but at what cost? There are simply not 96 quality college basketball teams.

Mediocre teams will make it into the tournament. Playing in it will no longer be an honor, but an expectation. The field will be littered with stumblebums.

One of the many reasons this tournament has grown so popular is because fans of the schools invited are thrilled. Communities, states and regions become energized. It's an honor.

And then there is the March Madness office pool. It's fun to try to pick the winners when upsets can -- and do -- happen. Can a 12 seed knock off a 5 seed? Yes. Most of the teams in this field are solid.

But expanding the field to 96 so dilutes the field that the first round -- 24 seed vs. 9 seed, for example -- will be less interesting than the ping-pong championships shown at ESPN2 at 2 a.m.

We have seen that with the NCAA football bowl games. Teams that don't have a winning record, those that are 6-6, are now invited to bowl games. It's ridiculous.

The NCAA championship basketball tournament -- all championship tournaments -- should mean something. It should be reserved for the best teams, those that earned a shot at the title.

Sadly, the NCAA isn't alone in heading down this road to mediocrity. It's a trend in our society. It's the everybody-who-plays-gets-a-trophy syndrome. That's fine when the athletes are 6 years old, but not when they are in college -- or even high school.

At some point, excellence should be rewarded.

What the NCAA is thinking about doing -- and doing for money -- is a slap in the face to those teams that have earned a spot in this now prestigious tournament.

That's no knock on Butler. The Bulldogs earned their spot.

Butler won the Horizon League championship with an 18-0 record. The team is now 33-4 on the season. Butler was a No. 5 seed going into the tournament.

Sure, it's the underdog in tonight's championship game against Duke, one of the most prestigious programs in the country, but it is a legitimate contender for the championship -- and has been since the tournament began.

A 24 seed, or even a 17 seed, has almost no chance of winning.

This tournament should be reserved for the best teams in college basketball.


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