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Tournament expansion needs a chance

After the video montage set to “One Shining Moment,” the NCAA Tournament was officially over, as the National Champion Duke Blue Devils beat the dark-horse Butler Bulldogs to capture the title.

Butler seemingly came from nowhere. Yes, I know they were in the top 25 during the regular season and they were a No. 5 seed in the tournament, but did anyone have them making it to the title game? I don’t think so.

Now, the NCAA is proposing — and will most likely pass — a motion that would expand the tournament field from the current format of 64 to 96 teams.

Traditionalists are crying bloody murder, as if the expansion to 96 is turning Cristal into Andre sparkling wine and killing what the tournament stands for: excellence. Personally, I am a proponent of this expansion, and here’s why.

The biggest argument against tournament expansion is that it will water down the tournament; this point was especially strong this year with traditional powerhouses like UCLA, UNC and Connecticut barely even reaching records above .500.

Parity will keep the tournament from losing its competitive edge. Over the past 20 years, the talent gap between the national power conferences and the mid-majors has been shrinking every year. Case in point: Butler competing in the national title game, Northern Iowa making it to the Elite Eight; times are changing, and the tournament should adapt.

Traditionalists will also say that a bigger tournament will only mean even more time away from school for student-athletes. It is a noble assertion, but let’s not kid ourselves: I don’t see these same people sticking up for the players when the conference tournament is during finals week, or when the Orange Bowl is during a crucial lecture.

College sports is a business, and I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying that we should call it what it is and go from there. If the NCAA really cared so much about its student athletes, it would hold sporting events during the summer and leave the traditional school year as time for athletes to be, well, students.

As far as I am concerned, the expansion will bring more positives than negatives, and the change should be given a chance instead of immediately shunned. Villanova head coach Jay Wright put the expansion into perspective.

“When I first became a Division I head coach, I think there were 297 teams. Now there’s 347,” Wright said to pittnews.com. “The tournament has stayed the same size. The game has grown, all of the conferences have grown, and the mid-major programs have grown. There are just so many more good teams out there.”

Not only has there been growth, but if a coach doesn’t get his program into the tournament, the season is considered a failure. This means that approximately 18 percent of college coaches are considered successful each season? It sounds harsh, especially when you compare it to FBS Division I football, where 53 percent of teams make it to bowl games.

The expanded tournament will also allow bubbles to play themselves out. Wouldn’t you rather watch two teams that have the same record, one from the Pac-10 and the other from the Mountain West, play in a first-round matchup instead of listening to Joe Lunardi on ESPN?

There is no perfect answer, for now, but I do think the NCAA is going in the right direction — and who knows, maybe it will help the Huskies down the road.

Reach columnist Mark Morgan at sports@dailyuw.com.

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