Friday, April 2, 2010

Expand It!

I fail to understand the logic of those who argue against expanding the NCAA basketball tournament. OK, I get that most people see this as another way for the really rich broadcasters to get even richer. But get over it.

My only problem with what we're learning about the expansion plans (growing from a 65-team field to 96) is that they don't go far enough. Some say, "But the tournament's already too long!". OK, fair enough. Eliminate the made-for-money postseason conference tournaments and use those dates to play NCAA tourney games.

You could easily double the tournament from 64 to 128, or even go to 256 teams, and not play any later into the spring than the current format requires. True, some of the longshot teams that currently make the NCAA field by winning a conference tournament might be left out. But there'd be more room for second and third and even fourth-place teams from the mid-majors.

The argument I hear most often is that a bigger field dilutes the tournament. Excuse me, but I don't get that. If you're going to be the national champion, you have to beat everyone anyway, right? Following the "smaller is better" logic, why not just shrink the whole thing and make it a four-team tournament? Of course that's stupid. So who made 65 the magic number?

One thing I don't see anyone talking about is the changing media environment. As I write, we're about to see the launch of the iPad, and there will be other gadgets and services we can't yet imagine. All of these will allow highly-personalized services to emerge. Want to watch only the first-round matchup between McCoppin and UCLA? Click your iPad, pay your $1.99, and watch away. No interruptions to cut away to the Baylor-Arkansas State finish you don't care about.

The point is, the future will be about more media consumption opportunities, not fewer. Once you accept that reality, you'll be fine with a really big NCAA tournament. It's an idea in perfect sync with the times.

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