College sports leaders are seeking to improve the top tier NCAA athletics. This includes how Division I should operate and what schools should do to be competitive at the highest level.
The NCAA could be changed to make it more attractive for its crown jewel event, the Division I men’s college basketball tournament. This three-week, 68 team joyride has been a American sporting institution.
What does that actually mean?
What about an expanded bracket? Or perhaps more play-ins — but don’t call these play-in — and less opportunities for small schools to upset traditional powers.
It used to be a 32-team tournament. Then it became a 48-team tournament. And it was 64. It was then 65. It’s now 68,” Atlantic Sun Commissioner Ted Gumbart stated. “So, I don’t believe there is a magic number. Hey, you can’t have 72 or 80. It’s healthy, I believe.”
What does an NCAA Tournament sound like with all 351 DI schools?
Bob Bowlsby, Big 12 Commissioner, stated that an all-comers tournament could be created with one weekend. “I believe it’s a good idea. It might contain the nuggets for compromise that could make it satisfactory.
Sunday night saw the men’s March Madness field of 68. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the First Four appetizer will be served before the national basketball bonanza begins on Thursday.
Let’s be clear: March Madness has not been given to the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee, which consists of 21 university presidents and administrators co-chaired jointly by Greg Sankey, Southeastern Conference commissioner, and Julie Cromer, Ohio athletic director.
The charge of the committee is much broader and covers issues such as governance, membership requirements, and the “student-athlete experiences.” They will be expected to report back to the Division I Board of Directors by August.
Cromer stated that it was more likely that the committee would establish a minimum standard for Division I, and within that, a minimum level to allow full access to Division I benefits. The sport-by-sport review might then emerge.
There are some important questions that lie beneath the bureaucracy and will decide the future of March Madness. Are schools with huge athletic budgets and resources able to continue to compete for national championships against one another? What access should schools with no real chance of winning championship events receive from schools that are part of conferences?
There is also the question of money. The NCAA’s $1 billion in revenue comes mainly from the Division I men’s basketball tourney. In 2022, the payout is expected to reach $870 million. This revenue is used to fund NCAA operations, championship events in many other sports, and approximately $670 million will be distributed to schools through conferences.
It will be a matter of dispute how this pie should be divided in future. Basketball fans would like to see changes in the size and distribution of the brackets.
Each of the 32 Division I conferences currently receives an automatic bid to be its champion. Most of these conferences, from American East to Western Athletic receive an automatic qualifier into this field. This access comes with several millions in revenue. One unit was earned last year for qualifying for the NCAA men’s tournament. It was worth $2.02million over six years.
This isn’t much for a Power Five league like Bowlsby’s Big 12 or the SEC, which have media rights agreements worth billions based mainly on their strong football programs. This money is significant for smaller conferences.
Bowlsby stated that there are many leagues and schools that will fight for their access.
The tournament is dominated by mid-major conference schools, but there are always upsets. These teams, such as UMBC and Oral Roberts, get to enjoy a few days in the national spotlight and make college basketball history.
The athletes who do not have access to TV are rewarded with the chance to play against them.
They wanted that chance. Shawn Heilbron, Stony Brook’s athletic director, said that the Seawolves wanted to be on the stage. He was there in 2016, when the Seawolves won America East. Kentucky played in the first round. The Wildcats won 85 to 57.
The NCAA selection committee usually awards the majority of at-large bids to power conferences and basketball that includes the Big East. These six leagues were awarded 29 out of 36 at-large bids in this year’s field.
Gumbart stated that if conferences desire more teams to participate in the tournament, the easiest solution is to increase at-large bids.
“I don’t believe we’ll get rid of AQs. Gumbart stated that he doesn’t believe it will happen. “Some people may want to do it, but I don’t think that’s healthy for the larger aspect of college athletics.”
The First Four was formed in 2011, when the field grew to 68 teams. Two matchups of automatic qualifiers are played in Dayton, Ohio on Tuesday and Wednesday. They attempt to get into the main bracket as 16 seeded, and two at-large selections that are deemed 12 seeded.
The First Four is often called a play-in round by fans, but the NCAA vigorously opposes this.
Jennifer Heppel, Patriot League Commissioner, stated that “this is where Dayton has been fantastic.” It’s all about the experience. It’s the experience of playing on that court, with the (March Madness branding). The newness with the NCAA logo and the spotlight.
She added, “So what if there were four more Daytons?”
Does this expansion mean that there are more games with mid-major automatically qualified qualifiers and less opportunities for Cinderella?
“Should it be more like a play-in, where the lower seeds face each other and then the higher seeds enter later in the tournament?” Perhaps that’s the best model, if the tournament expands,” Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman stated.
The NCAA TV deal with Turner and CBS runs through 2032. Any changes to the tournament will require their approval. A bigger tournament will almost certainly generate more revenue. However, that doesn’t mean they would distribute it in the same manner moving forward.
A victory in the First Four pays the same unit price than advancing in the 64 team bracket. It is not certain that this will remain the same in the future.
Greg Shaheen, an ex-NCA executive, said that he could see the potential for a multiplicating effect in which the later rounds have a greater weight. He spent six years modeling expanded brackets up to 96 in the 2000s before the NCAA made a slight jump to 68 in 2011.
He stated that “the bottom line is that we have more teams than 64 because the major five conferences didn’t want to give up any at-large.”
Shaheen stated that the power conferences value the big-tent approach for the NCAA Tournament and the diversity of schools. He doesn’t think those at the top end of college sports’ food chain are driven to do something different and leave the little guys behind.
Shaheen stated that it is possible to make odd choices due to Division I’s different priorities.
He said that sometimes, membership can lead to unlogical changes and, quite frankly, adversely affect the product. The problem is that you end up with some things that don’t make sense when there are so many perspectives.