PR in Sports

Looking at the World of Sports from a PR Perspecitve

Expanding The NCAA Tournament Without Destorying The Current Format

with 10 comments

Apparently expanding the greatest tournament on Earth is almost a done deal. According the Sports by Brooks, sources at ESPN say the NCAA basketball tournament expanding to 96 teams is a “done deal”. Many fans of college basketball, analysts and those in the game feel adding 30 teams to March Madness is a horrible idea. Why mess with something that clearly isn’t broken, especially when the NCAA is catching heat every year regarding the mess that is the college football bowl system.

Normally I’d be getting into the PR ramifications of this decision, but when speaking of the NCAA that could really be an entire series of posts. PR isn’t exactly their forte. So instead, as a lifelong college basketball fan, I simply want to give my idea to expand the tournament without destroying the current format, but while also increasing publicity and revenue for the NCAA.

I’ve always had the following idea about the play-in game, and through discussions with friends, other college basketball fans and on #SportsPRChat on Twitter it has evolved.  I’m not sure if anyone else has proposed this, but I’ve always felt the play-in game was a decent idea, just horribly executed. First, why should two teams that earned automatic bids have to participate in a play-in game? Second, why do I want to watch two of the worst teams in the field play for the right to get trounced by the likes of North Carolina, Kansas or Duke? There’s zero excitement.

I propose we expand the tournament from 64 to 68 teams by adding three additional play-in games. The change is that the now four play-in games would be between the last four at-large teams in the tournament and the last four out of the tournament. The winners of the four games will then be slotted into the four #12 seed positions. This results in far more exposure, publicity and revenue for the play-in games.

This season for example, instead of watching two small conference teams battle it out to get trounced by Kansas or Kentucky, we could see eight BCS or talented mid-major teams fight it out. Going by Joe Lunardi’s most recent bracketology, with this idea, the Tuesday before the official tournament kicks-off we’d potentially see Maryland vs. Wichita St., Old Dominion vs. Marquette, Cincinnati vs. Seton Hall and Connecticut vs. Louisville.

Who wouldn’t want to watch those teams fight it out for a chance to be an upset special in the Big Dance? Almost every year there’s a #12 seed that makes a run in the tournament.

This might not add as much revenue as the NCAA is looking for, but as mentioned it adds more excitement. The four play-in games would be far more interesting. It wouldn’t render the regular season basically irrelevant, like adding 30 more teams would do, and it wouldn’t minimize the anticipation and excitement of the current first round.

This would probably only slow the move to 96 teams, but I think this change to the play-in system would be a good one even if they don’t expand the tournament. Either way, I’d love to hear thoughts on this idea, or any other ideas on how to improve the tournament in the comments below.

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Written by Brian Gleason

February 3, 2010 at 12:25 am

10 Responses

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  1. I wasn’t aware that this was coming to life so soon to be honest. I had just started hearing about it two weeks ago and now apparently it’s a done deal?

    I agree that it could possibly be more exciting and it makes winning the tournament that much more impressive, but I think some of the games are going to be downright awful. Two teams can play a sloppy game for 39 minutes and 10 seconds and since it’s decided in the last 10 seconds of an NCAA Tournament game people are going to talk about it like it was an instant classic. So when Pacific meets UNLV in the 1st round of the tournament and each team shoots 38% from the field, I will have watched a “classic”

    This is disheartening, if true.

    Also, very nice stuff you have written here.


    February 3, 2010 at 2:04 am

    • Thanks, I enjoyed checking out your blog as well and will continue too. I totally agree on expanding to 96 teams, I don’t like the idea and think it will just water everything down. I don’t think I’ll get as excited for the first round, and wonder if it will limit my excitement for the entire thing. Hopefully they slow down and rethink this. Not that anything serious will happen to them, but I could see ESPN getting a little fan backlash on this.

      Brian Gleason

      February 3, 2010 at 2:10 am

  2. I just think when you talk about the NCAA Tournament, you are talking about something that is a symbol of the way things should be done. When people talk about the BCS they reference the NCAA Tournament and that’s how it should be done.

    Obviously my initial reaction is to be opposed to it because I enjoy this format so much, but just thinking about all the teams that I thought were snubbed in recent years, this would give them a chance to prove themselves come tournament time. But of course, by saying that, that brings up the argument of do they deserve that chance?

    So many different thoughts going into this it’s hard to come up with an intelligent response.


    February 3, 2010 at 2:16 am

  3. Wow. I didn’t realize that this was so close to fruition.

    I don’t like the expansion at all and think the tournament is just long enough and just small enough. Why fix what isn’t broken?

    But, as usual, the NCAA sees the $ signs and wants to make a few extra bucks on this.

    To me, there are “snubs” every year, but those teams had 25+ games and a conference tournament to prove themselves worthy to be in the 64 team dance.

    I like your idea, Brian, but what about the next 4 out? How long until they start complaining that they deserve a shot, too?

    To me, there’s really no way to “fix” that problem.

    Anyway, this further proves to me that the NCAA isn’t about the “students” or the colleges, but is all about the money.

    Tom O'Keefe

    February 3, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    • Hi Tom,

      Thanks for stopping by. I’m with you on not expanding the tournament. I think it’s hilarious that people are screaming about the bowl system and the NCAA won’t touch it, while everyone thinks the basketball tournament is pure gold, but the NCAA wants to mess with that. The NCAA is being viewed as a complete money grubbing joke right now, and has serious PR issues.

      Brian Gleason

      February 3, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    • “To me, there are “snubs” every year, but those teams had 25+ games and a conference tournament to prove themselves worthy to be in the 64 team dance.”

      I totally agree with Tom on this and there’s really no solution to it all. Somewhere, somehow, someone is going to be unhappy and feel “snubbed”…as with the BCS system. I think the tourney is long enough as is and pretty fair all around and adding another 31 games would be overkill.


      February 3, 2010 at 2:58 pm

      • I agree, I really don’t want a 96-team field, although I do think this plan would be a nice upgrade of the play-in format to bring the tournament to 68 teams. Something we need to be remember though, is that expanding the tournament is all about the $$$, not really about making “snubbed” teams feel better. That’s definitely the motivation for the NCAA.

        Brian Gleason

        February 3, 2010 at 5:52 pm

  4. Expanding the tournament to 96 teams is a terrible decision by the NCAA. The tournament clearly works now just fine. It lasts the perfect amount of time to keep the viewers interested. If the tournament was expanded it would no longer be March madness it would have to spill over into April.
    I think expanding the tournament would be a bad idea for ratings. There would be teams in the tournament that do not deserve to be there and audience members would become uninterested and bored with the over abundance of basketball.


    March 28, 2010 at 2:55 pm

  5. Expanding the NCAAA tournament to 96 teams does have its pros and cons. Tradition will certainly be broken if the tournament is modified. The current 64 team tournament includes a formula that works and the feeling of many people is, “don’t try to fix it if it ain’t broke.” My opinion is that the format should be not be modified. The 64 team tournament is for the elite teams, and the NIT is for the teams that couldn’t cut it this year. I also don’t think I have enough space on my DVR to record that many games.
    The new format guarantees that a 96 team tournament will not prolong the season. Time out of class will be the same. The tournament will be complete in the same time frame as the 64 team tournament which is three weeks. By expanding the tournament the new bracket could include the 32 NIT teams, and may altogether do away with the NIT. This is not good because many NIT teams simply do not belong in the NCAA tournament. The 96 team tournament is also only proposed for men’s teams. Women’s programs have just as many teams, are just as competitive and fun to watch and should be given the same opportunity to expand.
    What this all boils down to is money. Revenue distribution is very important in the NCAA tournament. College institutions rely on money from March Madness to supplement their athletic program budgets. The NCAA also generates 90% of its revenue from the NCAA Tournament. Proposals for television coverage are currently being drafted. Over the air networks and cable networks are currently submitting proposals for split air time to cover such a large tournament format. This could lead to broadcast deals of over $750 million dollars.
    Many of the unknown schools that are allowed in the 96 team format will certainly benefit from media exposure. This would be live broadcast of their contests, more newspaper, internet, radio coverage will be generated. This would also boost the business of college public relations departments and definitely keep them busy. Once again, if the goal here is to make money, this is the right way to conduct business.


    March 25, 2012 at 12:30 am

  6. thanks.. I love your article please keep posting.. I’m going to share this news to my friend..


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