Monday, March 16, 2009

The Great 128

The howling is underway all across America. This team or that team left out of the NCAA Tournament (locally, it's St. Mary's College that got hosed, despite a 25-win season). I say it's time to shush some of this up by expanding the field to 128 teams.

When the tournament field was expanded from 32 teams to 64 a few years back (and then to 65, sort of, with the inclusion of a "play-in" game between two "minor conference" teams for the 64th slot), the experts said it was fair.

But it's not. Somebody is judging the value of each win. Are Arizona's 19 wins really better than St, Mary's' 25? Do we know that a 19-win Wisconsin team would beat a 23-win San Diego State team? No, we don't. Not really.

Look. I don't know if the Big East deserves to have 7 teams in the field, or whether 6 Pac-10 teams belong. But I do know that with all of those teams in, a 22-win Auburn squad is out.

I also know that doubling the field won't end the squabbling (some year, it would be a 12-18 IUPUFW Mastodon backer whining about being left out). But a 128-team NCAA field would ensure that all the "smaller" conferences get their shot (come on in, St. Mary's!), while making room for strong also-rans from the big leagues.

You wouldn't think anyone would really complain. After all, one more game isn't a big thing in college hoops. It would generate more revenue and buzz.

But here's why it will never happen: the big dogs hate the idea of being Chaminaded. That's a reference to the epic 1982 upset of titan University of Virginia by tiny Chaminade. Admittedly, not an NCAA tournament game. But the NCAA's are a one-loss-and-out deal, and each extra round exposes a would-be champion to another opportunity for an upset.

The current 65-team setup already allows "undeserving" teams to get in. Every year, a mid-major (or lower) team wins its conference tournament to gain an NCAA bid. Why not extend the upset-potential fun to the Big Dance by making it even bigger?

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