On Wednesday, the ACC men’s basketball coaches surprisingly announced they are proposing an NCAA Tournament that every Division I team for this upcoming season. If it became reality, that would result in a field over five times larger than normal, expanding from 68 teams to 346 teams that are eligible for this season. Legendary Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski is apparently a leading voice within the conference on this proposal and said in a statement a key reason is that “we believe in the important of celebrating our game”
I’m not sure how expanding a prestigious event like the NCAA Tournament would celebrate the game. Instead, it would devalue how special it is to earn an invite. This isn’t a recreational basketball league, it’s Division I. It wouldn’t be March Madness anymore, it would be March Absurdity.
Of course, the logistics and cost of operating a tournament five times larger than normal, in a pandemic no less, would be extremely challenging. So challenging in fact that NCAA President said in August that they were actually considering having a smaller field in 2021. Here is his quote from ESPN’s Jeff Borzello’s article:
“Starting with 64 teams is tough. Thirty-two, OK, maybe that’s a manageable number. Sixteen, certainly manageable. But you’ve got to figure out those logistics,” Emmert said in an interview on the NCAA’s website last month. “There’s doubtlessly ways to make that work.
“It’s obviously expensive to do that,” he added. “But we’re not going to hold a championship in a way that puts student-athletes at risk. If we need to do a bubble model and that’s the only way we can do it, then we’ll figure that out.”
The NCAA reportedly lost $375 million from the 2020 Tournament being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Are we to believe it’s feasible they can cough up enough money to pull off an event far grander than they’ve ever done before? An event of this size even without the challenge of dealing with the pandemic would be unprecedented. Add in a health crisis and it seems borderline crazy to attempt from a logistics standpoint, not to mention the overall costs. We are talking about several thousand people participating, which would be much larger than what the NBA is doing. Is it realistic to think the NCAA can pull it off successfully AND actually pay for it? Remember, whatever they do for men’s basketball, they have to replicate for women’s basketball as well.
How the NCAA could pull off a bubble environment or multiple bubble situation and include five times more teams than usual at first glance seems like a close to impossible situation. The other issue is expanding the field that large would require rigorous protocols in place to keep everyone safe and healthy due to COVID-19.
Also important is there is no reason to cheapen the value of an NCAA Tournament berth. Not only do you devalue the current streaks of teams that have earned a bid for consecutive years, but you also devalue any potential victories for any program. It also unfairly creates potential embarrassment for every team. Does a low level DI program with single digit wins benefit by being blown out by 50 points under the spotlight? Does a high major that rightfully earned a bid benefit from potentially playing a bad team too close or even lose?
The reality is this unlikely to happen. Thankfully, NCAA basketball head Dan Gavitt issued a statement on Thursday morning saying as much.
The question should be what is the motive of the ACC to propose this idea in the first place? I hope it’s not to find a compromise by expanding the NCAA Tournament field to a more reasonable number like 96 to ensure more of their teams make it. It’s obvious the ACC hasn’t been nearly as strong in recent years. I don’t know what they are up to for sure, but I want no part of any expanded field, this year or beyond.
As someone who was at the RAC on that glorious night in 1989 when Bob Wenzel’s team earned an automatic bid out of nowhere, as well as remembering the three point loss to Arizona State in 1991 in the First Round, I absolutely hate the idea of every team making the NCAA Tourney this season. Even if you weren’t a Rutgers fan back then or weren’t even born yet, we’ve waited too long for the program’s next trip to March Madness to given out for free.
Finally, Rutgers has a team worthy of making the NCAA Tournament based on merits. The drought should have ended at 29 years this past March if not for the global pandemic COVID-19. With the health crisis putting this upcoming season in limbo once again, the biggest hope should still be having a season at all. Even so, that doesn’t justify diluting arguably the best annual sporting event in America, at least to such a large scale.
Whether non-conference games occur or it’s a all-Big Ten schedule, there is no doubt this will not be a normal season. Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell said as much in our conversation last week. It’s certainly possible that the most talented team the program has had in years may not make a normal or smaller field for the NCAA Tournament because of it. The RAC homecourt advantage will be gone most likely as it’s hard to fathom fans being able to attend games anytime soon. The Big Ten is loaded even more so this season, so if it was a 26 game schedule and a smaller NCAA field. It’s going to be a challenge for sure, but that doesn’t mean I’d want to see Rutgers guaranteed a postseason berth no matter what happens.
Rutgers fans have suffered for a long time on the hardwood. Harder arguably than any other power five program in the country. Whenever the Scarlet Knights go dancing again, whether that’s in 2021 or 2041, we deserve to enjoy it in a way that is authentic and true. Let’s do it the old fashioned way, by earning it. Whenever the banner is hung at the RAC marking the next NCAA Tournament appearance, let it hang with honor and not take on the appearance of a participation trophy. Don’t rob Rutgers fans of a celebration that could never be replicated both by earning a bid and finally winning a game once they are dancing.