Sunday February 21, 2010

There's a move afoot to expand the NCAA men's Division I basketball tournament to nearly 100 teams.

No less an authority than Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim believes that the expansion of the tournament from 65 to 96 is warranted.

Of course it is -- if you coach in one of the power or BCS conferences. Because if you are a coach in the Big East, or SEC or ACC, it's all about you and not about the game.

"We don't have the 65 best teams in the tournament right now," Boeheim told ESPN Radio's Colin Cowherd last week. "We have automatic qualifiers, so there's teams in there that aren't the best teams in the country."

I guess that means the teams in the non-power leagues might as well just roll their basketballs into a bag and go home. Or they might as well drop down to Division II or III, because they just don't matter.

Try selling that over in Loudonville, N.Y. to the Siena Saints, or to the Northeastern Huskies in Boston, or to the Temple Owls in Philadelphia. The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the Colonial Athletic Conference and the Atlantic 10 don't have the television contracts of the Big East or the ACC. You don't see those so-called mid-majors on ESPN four nights a week. Sometimes, it seems like ESPN is the University of Connecticut or the University of Kentucky's private television network.

So why, according to Boeheim, does the tournament need to get super-sized?

"Right now we have 65 teams out of 358. It's the least number of teams qualifying for tournament play of any sport -- pro, college, whatever you want to name except college football because they don't have that," Boeheim told the ESPN Radio audience. "We need more teams in the tournament. It makes sense."

Does it?

I'm sorry, but the fact that you have a 12-14 team conference that shows up on television doesn't mean that your team has to make the NCAA tournament.

Maybe UConn deserves a berth -- if the Huskies play well in the Big East Tournament, they might earn their way in. But there's no way that Connecticut deserves to be in the NCAAs just because of a past resume and the name on the front of the uniform.

I do, however, believe that the tournament does need to expand. If I were the king of the NCAA, we'd have one of the so-called "play-in" games for each of the four regions.

But I'd take it one step further. The teams that are in the play-in games have to be at-large teams and then the NCAA could seed them in at 10, 11, or 12.

As of now, the play-in game features two teams from the smallest of the small conferences. That's when you get a Texas A&M-Corpus Christi against a Maryland-Eastern Shore, two teams that won their leagues, but leagues with low RPIs.

Those kind of schools are punished for winning their leagues, while some middle-of-the-pack teams from the power conferences get in because of who they are and the champions of those leagues.

It's not fair to punish teams for doing their jobs. It's not the faults of the Texas A&M-Corpus Christis that they don't play in the Big 10 or Big 12. And just try to get a home-and-home series with one of those power conference teams. Does Syracuse leave the Carrier Dome in December to play UAlbany? Nope. Does UConn ever play Quinnipiac on the road? For that matter, does UConn ever play UMass anymore anyplace? The answer to both is no.

Punish some of the at-large teams that didn't quite do what they had to during the course of the regular season. Don't punish the mid-major conference champions.

"I do know we need an expansion, this is nothing new, and now more than ever because we're getting complete and total parity in college basketball," Boeheim told the ESPN Radio listeners.

If that's the case, then let those conference champions play and keep some of those at-large teams in the NIT.

To reach Howard Herman:
hherman@berkshireeagle.com,
(413) 496-6253.