Home > Commentary: Expanded NCAA Tournament Field Has Some Benefits

On the American sports landscape, the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament has evolved into arguably the most popular serial event on the sports calendar.

Unquestionably, the NFL’s Super Bowl is the most popular single event. And yes, that game is the culmination of a serial phenomenon known as the NFL playoffs.

$1,500 First Bet Offer
Competitive odds
Attentive customer support

Bet $10, Get $200 in Bonus Bets Instantly - Bonus Code: STATESFB200

However, for igniting fan passion — and online sports betting interest certainly reflects that passion — the men’s college basketball tournament has found its stride, eclipsing even baseball’s World Series.

That being the case, one is reminded of the old adage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

However, at least one NCAA committee thinks the tournament — as well as other sports championship tournaments, including the women’s basketball tournament — could use some fixing by making their fields larger.

The NCAA Division I Transformation Committee just issued a 39-page report Jan. 3 that outlines a raft of recommendations regarding student-athletes. Some recommendations seem so obvious — such as, “at least two years of medical coverage after college or the completion of their athletic career if they sustain an athletically related injury” — it’s hard to believe they aren’t already mandated.

Other common-sense and compassionate recommendations regarding student-athlete welfare concern mental health care and financial assistance for resuming the pursuit of academic degrees.

However, the headline recommendation from the report is on expanding the field of championship tournaments.

To be clear, it’s not just the men’s basketball tournament. The recommendation refers to all Division I sports offered by more than 200 schools.

Largest Welcome Bonus On The Market
Weekly Promotions
Attentive Customer Support

$1,000 First Bet on Caesars - Promo Code: USBETTING1000

The Expanded Basketball Tournament

The expansion would be to include 25% of active Division I schools in good standing. So far, it remains a recommendation and would need further approvals throughout the NCAA, and the change would go into effect for the 2024-25 school year, if accepted.

With more than 350 Division I men’s basketball programs, and a similar number of women’s Division I basketball programs, the fields for those tournaments would jump from the current 68 teams to approximately 90 schools.

Traditionalists might wince because, by definition and past practice, the tournament is imagined as a competition for the elite teams.

However, expansion has been the rule. The first men’s basketball tournament that evolved into the one we know now was held in 1939 with eight teams. In 1951, it went to 16 teams; then in 1975 to 32, in 1985 to 64, and then play-in games were added to get the event to the current 68.

$1,000 Welcome Bonus
NFL Odds Boosts
Superb Mobile Apps

Bet $5 Get $200 in Bonus Bets

Weighing Pros and Cons

Here’s the thing. After the first frenzied four-day “weekend” of play, it’s a 16-team field anyway. Expanding the tournament to the approximate 90 teams, depending on how the brackets are arranged (perhaps there could be byes for some conference champions), the field will be roughly the same size after the initial fusillade of games.

So, what’s the downside?

That a few more dozen colleges and their fans and a few more hundred student-athletes experience the thrill of competing for a national championship — at least for a game or two? (As well as more games for mobile sports betting apps).

The Transformation committee’s language on the benefits of tournaments to student-athletes generally is somewhat grandiose but also on-target: “NCAA tournaments are where dreams are fulfilled, lifelong memories are made, and communities come together under a shared love for the game. Seeing student-athletes, both in victory and defeat, competing with passion and conviction wins our hearts long after the clock hits zero. Simply put, championships represent the very best of college athletics.”

If we can accept the wisdom of those thoughts, then there are benefits to expanding the experience to as many student-athletes as possible.

Criticisms will include a lengthened schedule for already over-taxed student athletes and some sort of diminution of the prestige of getting into a tournament.

On the first count: Yes, some sports seasons are too long and too demanding. So, cut down on regular-season games. Most basketball teams play nearly 30 games even without being in a post-season tournament. Get rid of a few non-conference contests.

And as far as how increasing the field somehow waters down the import or excitement of the overall event, just think about University of Maryland, Baltimore County knocking off Virginia, or St. Peter’s stunning Kentucky.

Unfathomable wins by the UMBC Retrievers and the St. Peter’s Peacocks are the stuff of sports legend. Including a few more dozen teams in a sports tournament sets the stage for more such moments.

Up to $150 in No Sweat Bets
Favorite NFL Team Option
Same-Game Parlays on all Sports

Bet $5 Get $200 Instantly + Up to $150 in No Sweat Bets

Subscribe for sports betting offers, promos and news

Related stories

The Stars Group selected as authorized gaming operator of NBA

Joan Mantini

New Jersey sports betting wagers continue to climb

Joan Mantini

GiG Signs Sportsbook Contract With Hard Rock International

Joan Mantini

Rivers Casino Pittsburgh Officially Opens its Sportsbook

Joan Mantini

SugarHouse Casino Makes Philly History

Joan Mantini

DraftKings Prepares to Launch Sports Betting in West Virginia

Joan Mantini