Paul Zeise: Expansion of the NCAA men's basketball tournament is inevitable, so embrace it

Paul Zeise, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Basketball

PITTSBURGH — I'm as crotchety and stuck in my ways as anyone.

I mean, I was already an old man yelling at clouds in about 1990 and have always been somewhat of a traditionalist when it comes to sports.

But even I have been able to adapt and accept the new world of college athletics — the transfer portal, NIL, the stipends and salaries, the conference realignments, the football playoffs and everything in between. The world of college athletics is ever-changing and evolving, and there is no stopping it now.

But somebody has to pay for all of this new stuff, and that's why all of these administrators, college presidents and athletic directors are brainstorming ways to create new revenue streams.

That is a long-winded way to say the NCAA men's basketball tournament is going to expand, and it is going to expand because it will create more revenue. There is no other reason for it to expand other than making more money, and quite frankly, that has become the way of the world in college athletics — follow the money.

And that is also why I am OK with expansion of the tournament, as much as I hate the idea of more mediocre teams getting into the field. Truth be told, if it were up to me, there would be no automatic bids and only 32 teams would make it — the best 32 teams. But it isn't up to me.

I long ago accepted the charm of the 64-team field complete with all the automatic qualifiers and Cinderellas, so this newest effort to expand the tournament is just sort of more of the same.

There is a large pushback by many people who love college basketball, as they don't want to see the NCAA Tournament changed. This especially is true among many of the national college basketball media members who have taken to the airwaves and social media to beg the NCAA to leave the tournament alone.

Again, I am as old and stuck in my ways as anyone, but I have to be honest: All of you fighting expansion of the NCAA Tournament are misguided and wasting energy. It is time to just relax, understand the lay of the land and realities of big-time college athletics and understand this expansion of the tournament was always inevitable.

For one thing, this isn't the first time the tournament has expanded. In the last three times, it was universally agreed that the tournament was improved. The tournament expanded in 1985, 2001 and then again in 2011, and all that really changed in the last two expansions is that they added a few play-in games.


That's why this newest expansion won't change much, if anything, about the actual NCAA Tournament, so I am not sure what all the angst is about. And that's especially true considering every model I've seen makes it pretty clear any new model will be built around the 64-team bracket.

Here is the excerpt from CBS Sports, which lays it out fairly well:

"According to Yahoo Sports, the presented changes would keep the core 64-team bracket intact, adding additional play-in games and at least one more First Four site. Expansion to the women's tournament could follow suit.

The NCAA Tournament field was expanded from 65 to 68 in 2011 and from 64 to 65 in 2001. The alteration to the event's core bracket came in 1985 when it expanded from 53 teams to 64."

The model of going to 72 or 76 games is simply going to add a few more play-in games. I am not sure what the issue is with that because people tend to like the play-in games. I mean, all we are really talking about is going from a "First Four" to maybe a "First Eight" or something.

If it makes critics feel better, let's keep calling them play-in games, and therefore, the NCAA Tournament still won't really truly begin until it gets to the field of 64. But regardless, it won't change the actual bracket. It will basically add, say, eight teams playing for four spots in the bracket.

Obviously, last season, Pitt would have benefitted greatly by an expanded field because they were one of the top teams left out of the field. But this isn't about Pitt or any individual team, it is about the kind of revenue that will be generated by extra games being played.

That's why I am OK with it and you should be, too. I mean, if an old crotchety man who has been yelling at clouds for at least 30 years can accept it, it can't be that big of a deal. The new era of college athletics is here, and that means everything that can be monetized must be monetized.

The NCAA Tournament will be fine even if they add a few more play-in games, so there is no reason to fight it now or even in the future when they talk about expanding it again.

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