Big 12 Coaches Favor Expanding NCAA Tournament

Monday, March 12th 2007, 2:59 pm
By: News On 6

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has plenty of support from Big 12 coaches for expanding the NCAA tournament.

Boeheim, a longtime proponent of including more teams in the field, was flabbergasted Sunday when the Orange were snubbed by the selection committee. That brought another round of calls from coaches on Monday to expand the tournament to at least 68 teams, if not more.

"If the field is designed to get the best 64 teams in -- if that was the design -- then from that standpoint you'd think it needs to be modified," said Kansas coach Bill Self, figuring a handful of automatic bids go each year to teams that otherwise would not make the cut.

Expanding the tournament has become a hot-button conversation piece that regularly bridges the gap between selection Sunday and the start of the NCAA tournament Thursday. It's the rallying cry of every fan whose team was passed over and every coach whose job security is measured by postseason appearances.

The last major tournament expansion came in 1985, which increased the field from 53 to 64 teams. The NCAA added a play-in game in 2001, when the number of automatic bids increased from 30 to 31.

Meanwhile, the spots on the dance floor have become harder to earn.

Since 1985, the number of Division I programs has ballooned from 282 to 336. The swell has been most pronounced since 1993, when a reduction in the number of scholarships a program can award from 15 to 13 spread talent among more teams and created more parity than ever.

During the Big 12 coaches' weekly conference call Monday, Self said the number of mid-majors that reached the NCAA tournament last season, led by George Mason's improbable run to the Final Four and round of 16 berths by Bradley and Wichita State, demonstrated how level the playing field has become.

But those berths came at the expense of heavyweight conferences such as the ACC and Big 12, which had the same number of tournament participants as the Missouri Valley.

"There's just so many good teams these days, and so many good players," said Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie, whose team sat on the bubble and sweated out an at-large bid last season. "I don't know the perfect number, but I definitely think we should expand."

Expanding the field would need more than the approval of coaches and administrators, though.

CBS signed an 11-year, $6 billion contract with the NCAA in 1999 that granted the network exclusive broadcast rights except for the play-in game. That deal extended a seven-year, $1.725 billion contract and locks up the tournament through 2013.

"A big player in the deal would be CBS," Self said. "If it's advantageous to them, then the field will expand. Television will play a huge role in that."

Last June, the NCAA men's basketball committee rejected a proposal by several coaches to nearly double the size of the field to 128, calling the expansion unnecessary. It also voted down an offer to increase the number of opening-round games in Dayton, Ohio.

Texas coach Rick Barnes believes that concept is worth revisiting.

"From the time we started that play-in game, I never quite understood why we wouldn't have four of them, one for each site," he said.

By adding three more lines to the bracket, teams like Syracuse, Kansas State and Drexel might not have had their bubbles burst.

The Orange (22-10) won seven of their last 10 games and went 10-6 in the Big East, while the Wildcats (22-11) routed Texas Tech -- an at-large pick with a 21-12 record -- by 21 points in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament.

Syracuse and Kansas State each had a better record and RPI than Stanford (18-12), which lost in the opening round of the Pac-10 tournament but made the field as a No. 11 seed.

Drexel (23-8) had perhaps the biggest gripe for not making the tournament, after winning 13 regular-season games on the road. The Dragons' RPI of 39 was better than eight other at-large selections, including fellow Colonial Athletic Conference member Old Dominion.

"When they first started, the intent was to put teams in the tournament that would have the chance to advance," Gillispie said. "There's probably more teams today than ever before that if they get an opportunity or the chance, they would succeed."