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RealView Sports: Is more less in the case of March Madness?

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“Ali Farokhmanesh” is now a household name among tourney followers. Expanding the bracket to 96 teams increases the chances that we come across great stories like his now and forever, amen.

RealView Sports by William Broussard

Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo! Sports calls it “the worst idea the NCAA has ever had, and it’s had a bunch of them” while Tracee Hamilton of the Washington Post called it the “worst idea in the history of ideas.”

Pete Thamel and Richard Sandomir of the New York Times claim that the NCAA is only considering the move only because of the money, citing CollegeRPI.com’s Jerry Palm, who claimed that this year’s field is “horribly unaccomplished” compared to previous years’ fields (in hindsight, this claim was moot, considering that 2010’s Sweet 16 boasted the most diverse class – from 11 different conferences, 3 double digit seeds, and Northern Iowa, Cornell, and St. Mary’s from mid-major conferences).

Gene Wojciechowski of espn.com hyperbolically equated the expansion to rewriting the intro to “Layla” by Eric Clapton, noting that it makes as much sense as the players not getting paid part for the $6 billion CBS payout to participate in the tournament (assuming he believes that the dollars which go into athletic department coffers to help underwrite the costs of athletic scholarships are non-existent, unimportant forms of payment).

As usual, the dominant sports media has jumped to the conclusion that best fits its desire to be entertained or to scandalize instead of conducting thorough investigation, or perhaps even considering the merits of watershed moves in popular sport.

The NCAA as bad guy, profiteering off of unpaid labor and athletic programs desperate for exposure and branding? Check. See also: Expansion of number of college football bowl games

The NCAA as bad guy, exploiting revenue sport potential for gross profits while sacrificing the quality of competition? Check.  See also: Proliferation of college athletic programs accepted for Division I status in the last decade.

However, as an athletic administrator at an NCAA Division I institution (Northwestern State is a member of the Southland Conference) and a former Division I athlete, I support the NCAA’s decision to consider expanding to a 96 team-tournament in men’s basketball. 

First of all, from a competition standpoint, critics are claiming that the 65-team tournament already features too many teams with insufficient accomplishments.  These individuals fail to take into consideration that a 6th or 7th place team in a major conference may have been a couple of breaks away from being a 2nd or 3rd place team, and, under the right conditions, could make a run in the tournament.  They also claim that the guarantee extended to winners of midmajor conference tournament championships already, on occasion, flood the tournament with underperforming teams.  And yet these same critics are likely the same ones calling for a playoff system to be implemented in college football so the winner can be decided on the field.  If the best team is decided “on the court,” by the same logic, then what does it matter if midmajors are going to get clobbered by the big conference schools and the underperforming big conference schools will be exposed as soon as they encounter real competition (like Ohio and Washington, respectively, this year. Wait, what?).

Secondly, from a revenue standpoint, many institutions benefit vastly from their participation in the NCAA tournament.  That’s right, the NCAA doesn’t keep all of the $6 billion profits from the television contract with CBS, much of those profits are paid out to athletic departments.  And even though the vast majority of those payouts have been made to big conference schools, those schools are slowly and surely weaning themselves off of state support, meaning that privately generated revenues and donations are increasingly fueling college athletics rather than taxpayer dollars.  And for programs like Northern Iowa, which has been to the NCAA tournament the past two years representing the Missouri Valley Conference, revenues generated from their participation this year (advancing to the Sweet 16) will go a long way toward balancing their budget.  Especially considering that the state of Iowa is forcing the University of Northern Iowa to find a way to continue operating without the $4.3 million subsidy it currently provides the institution for intercollegiate athletics.  While the Panthers and UNI alumni should be celebrating their unprecedented success, athletic department officials are now trying to figure out how they will continue to provide athletic scholarships next year.  Participating in and winning games in the NCAA tournament, which UNI will be given an increased chance to do if the field is expanded, could be crucial to them and so many other institutions in their predicament.

Finally, for all of the critics who criticize the NCAA for not focusing enough on amateurism, finishing your amateur career either competing in an NCAA postseason, or, by participating on a team who either brought your university to the NCAAs for the first time or helped it advance further than any other previous team is a treasure that an amateur athlete will possess for a lifetime.  The NCAA’s Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) has wised up to this notion, increasing the percentage of teams who have the chance to participate in postseason play from 13% to 16%. Currently, over half of the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams have the opportunity to end their seasons as bowl champions, and with the proposed increase, Division I basketball teams will increase their chances from 18% to 28%. 

If the tournament is expanded to 96 teams, more schools will have the opportunity to participate, earn much-needed revenue, and give more student-athletes the experience of a lifetime, and it will still only involve a quartile of the nation’s basketball programs.  And the institution of first-round byes will eliminate the need to add extra weeks of competition for the vast majority of schools, eliminating concerns about student-athletes missing too much class.  More revenue, more opportunity, no significant loss of competition equals more March Madness. 

The only downside is that we’ll have to hear David Barrett’s “One Shining Moment” for an additional week (though Jennifer Hudson’s version may bring me around).

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Written by demon53

March 30, 2010 at 5:57 am

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