By: Robert Aitken
At the end of February, much of the sports world was mum: the Olympics that nobody cared about were wrapping up, basketball was uneventful, baseball’s spring training was still a few days away and football free agency had not started yet. Suddenly, as the calendar switched into March, the sports world was lit on fire.
The sparkplug: a pretend science created by ESPN. The name: Bracketology.
College basketball’s profound effect to spice up the rest of the sports world was on full display yet again this year. Projections of the field, who is on the cusp, or “bubble”, as it is typically called, and projections of who will win it all begin two weeks before the bracket is even officially announced. And with every year, as this process goes on, one thing is always brought up about the bracket: expansion.
The tournament originally included just eight schools in the 1939 tournament. In 1951, it doubled to sixteen. Two years later, it was between 22 and 25 schools. The number grew to 32 in 1975 before adding eight more slots in 1979. The most change occurred in the 1980s: the decade began with 48, became 53 in 1983, added another spot the next season, and then became the common 64-team format in 1985. In 2001, a 65th spot was added and some critics want to see even more.
Some wish to do a massive overhaul and expand the tournament to 96 teams, which would be the largest single jump in bids ever. That would be 31 more spots than there currently are. That would essentially be like if the NIT tournament (32 teams) played themselves into the NCAA tournament. The argument is that small schools and the “Cinderella stories” that the tournament is known for are mostly gone by the third round. Expanding the field would also ensure that teams who felt robbed of a bid would be allowed to participate.
This season’s bubble team watch is showing the poorest résumés of any tournament in nearly thirty years. Teams that were left out last season would easily be in this year, according to experts. So why expand to get more teams when it is almost impossible to find teams worthy of the spots?
CBS Sports expert Brian De Los Santos believes, as of 11 p..m. Wednesday, there are 57 teams that are sure things in the tournament, between strong résumés and automatic conference bids. That leaves eight at-large spots and, according to De Los Santos, only 20 teams that have the right to fill those spots. With the expansion, the 12 teams that are left out would be in … but what about the other 19 spots? What scrub teams are going to be given a fighting chance then?
There has to be a line at some point. The 65-team field is fine, but I personally wish to see it stop at 68. There could be four play-in games, just like there were in 1983, and eight lower-market teams could all be featured on national television. It also means to not point out two teams specifically as the two worst in the tournament, while also taking the top of the cutting room floor and giving them an opportunity.
Expanding it to more teams, especially with this season, would be disastrous. No matter what the number is set at, there will always be a team that won’t make it. That is how it’s supposed to be.
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