The Logistics of 96

Rumors are abound that the NCAA is going to, perhaps as soon as the March 2011 season, expand the men’s basketball tournament to 96 teams from the current 65.  While I am not wild about the possibility I thought I would explore what this would mean in a nuts and bolts fashion.

First of all, how would the teams be organized?  If you keep the current system of 4 Regions that would be 24 teams per region.  Seeds 1-8 would have first round byes.  The first round would be 9v24 (winner to play 8), 10v23 (winner to play 7), 11v22 (winner to play 6), 12v21 (winner to play 5), 13v20 (winner to play 4), 14v19 (winner to play 3), 15v18 (winner to play 2), and 16v17 (winner to play 1).  After that first round you would have a field of 64 much like today’s (if form held exactly like today’s) format.  You could simply assign 6 teams to a pod instead of 4 and you could play games on Tuesday and Wednesday of the first week of the tournament; buildings would be Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday and Wednesday-Friday-Sunday.  Regionals and the Final Four would be just like now the following two weekends.

A more radical idea would be to go to 8 Regions with 12 teams in each region.  The first weekend would maintain the traditional two rounds being played, either by going back to the old system of having two sub-regionals per region but with two sub-regions in the same building, or you could have pods of 3 with 4 pods per building.  The first weekend would get each Region down to 4 teams, or 32 for the whole tournament and you would play Regional semis and finals the 2nd weekend like we do now.  The departure from normal would then come from not having a Final Four, but rather an Elite 8 at the championship site, which is what they do at the Division II level.  The National Quarterfinals could be played on that Thursday, with the Semis on Saturday and the Final on Monday like now.

As for the field itself I don’t know that it would necessarily make the tournament more boring.  People have very understandable fears of diluting the field, but old timers can tell you about the same fears when it was expanded from 32 to 48 or to 64.  What would basically happen is that the teams that are currently 15 and 16 seeds would become 23 and 24 seeds (maybe a seed line or two higher in the odd case) with a mix of mediocre power conference and decent 2nd, 3rd, 4th place mid-major conference teams filling in some cases into 13 & 14 seed lines with the bulk in the 15-22 seed range.  By and large these teams are just fractionally worse than the teams that currently and would continue to occupy the 9-12 seed lines.  They would then play each other in that opening round, thus by definition eliminating half of themselves, including likely most of the small conference teams that 1 and 2 seeds pound in oftentimes boring games.  But they would be playing someone more on their level and a lot of these games would likely be competitive.  Then with better teams winning high seeds would not have the walkover in the Round of 64 that they do now.  To use 2010 as analogy, Kansas would be playing Illinois and not Lehigh in the Round of 64.  Barring upset they would still be playing Northern Iowa in the Round of 32.  So at least in some ways it could make the Tournament better.

Another interesting factor is television.  I don’t know how interested CBS or any broadcast network would be in that first round, particularly the 4×24 format.  I could see ESPN showing 1st round games, and perhaps also the 2nd round or at least the afternoon portion of it, with CBS or whoever coming in the opening weekend.  On the other hand, the only change from the current schedule with the 8×12 format would be a 3rd Thursday.  I think a network could find a way to fit some National Quarterfinals into their schedule.  Perhaps they would play two games Thursday night and two games Friday night, then play Sunday and Tuesday night.  Either way would work.

Like I said at the top I am not personally anxious for an expansion to 96.  Personally I would maybe suggest expanding to 68.  That would mean having “play-in” games for all four 16 seeds.  Just make a day of it in Dayton on that Tuesday.  By having 8 teams on the 16 line it pulls other, stronger teams down a line and opens 3 spots on the bubble around the 12 or 13 line and again makes for a perhaps stronger 1st round.

One Response to “The Logistics of 96”

  1. Nick Says:

    My personal preference would be for 6×16 regions, but that won’t happen as it effs with bracket pools (ie. you’d have to reseed the Super Six due to quarterfinal byes).

    That said, I really hate this idea regardless of implementation. Even assuming they adopt the NIT rule where all conference regular season champs get a bid, you are going to end up with basically every BCS team with a >.500 record making the field.

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