Most sports fans, even those that aren't college basketball aficionados, can agree that the NCAA Tournament is a highlight on the sports calendar every year. Many believe it is the best event in all of sports because of the excitement of the players, the Cinderella stories that emerge and take the country by storm, the elite matchups, and so much more. But can the tournament get even better?
When the field was increased to 68 from 65 teams prior to the 2011 tournament, there was quite a bit of backlash about such a beloved event being changed and potentially diluted. Then VCU went from the newly-instituted play-in round to the final four, going well beyond proving they deserved to be in the field and legitimizing the change to the tournament format. VCU is just one of many schools in the tournament’s history to prove that there are a lot of good basketball teams out there and, given the opportunity, any number of teams have the potential to make deep runs.
The tournament provides a stage for teams like Butler, Wichita State, Florida Gulf Coast to be seen and players that will not be playing professional basketball to be household names for a few weeks. So would the excitement be even better if there were 128 teams? What about 256? Would it be worth sitting through a bunch of likely blowouts for the chance to see a 31 seed pull off a shocker? There would certainly be a lot more wild upsets and interesting story lines but the field as a whole would include a lot more teams that have no place competing for a national championship. All I know is that a whole bunch of people out there would be thrilled to have an extra weekend to watch basketball, regardless of what the results are.
On the other hand, in a smaller tournament there would be more matchups between historical powerhouses with huge fan bases that can better attract the casual fan. If the tournament was 32 teams, for example, it could consist of the top-25 plus a few other schools that finished the year strong and won their conference tournaments. While the Cinderella stories can make for great narratives, I’ll be honest, I didn’t go out of my way to see if Iona would upset Ohio State in their opener. But in a 32-team field, this season’s tournament would have featured first round matchups like Kansas-North Carolina and Florida-UCLA.
So maybe, as is not often the case, the NCAA is right on the money here. The 64 to 68 team range provides a nice balance between the two. But maybe a different tournament size would make for even more excitement, what do you think?