Almighty dollar’ behind changes in NCAA tournament

Travis Kriens

Travis Kriens

Would you expect anything different than the classic that Butler and Duke gave us to decide the 2010 NCAA men’s basketball national champion? The only way one of the most memorable tournaments in the past 20 years could end is with one of the most memorable title games of the past 20 years.

If you think things couldn’t get any better, you’re right. They can’t.

The NCAA seems determined to expand the 65-team tournament to 96 teams. The reason for the expansion is the almighty dollar.

The NCAA is in the opt-out year of its 11-year, $6 billion contract with CBS and is in talks with networks (ESPN) about a new TV contract. The only reason why the NCAA would opt out of its contract is to expand the tournament, which means higher rights fees and 31 additional games.

The NCAA-CBS broadcast rights contract has three years and $2.1 billion remaining, and the NCAA has until Aug. 31 to exercise its right, though it hopes to make a decision much earlier.

Also, the NCAA reportedly wants a new, 14-year deal with its network partner(s) with an early opt-out only available to the NCAA.

Under the proposed 96-game plan, the top 32 teams (the top eight seeds in each region) would receive a bye.

The first three rounds of the NCAA tournament would be non-stop basketball with 80 games in 12 days over a 13-day period.

The NCAA board will address the matter April 29 in Indianapolis.

While you will be hard-pressed to find a fan out there that is in support of expansion, college coaches, athletic directors and presidents are in full support of it.

Adding 31 more teams means more TV markets and more advertising money, which means the networks will have to come up with more money (more than the $700 million that CBS would pay annually over the next three years) to win the bid to broadcast the games.

Due to the recent economic recession, the university presidents and athletic directors are analyzing budgets, and most are hurting. Like it or not, expanding the tournament for more money will happen.

In a recent story in the Argus Leader, SDSU men’s basketball coach Scott Nagy hit it right on the head.

“I don’t think it’s about improving the tournament,” Nagy said. “It’s about generating more revenue.”

The NCAA’s latest report on revenues and expenses showed fewer than 25 percent of all Football Bowl Subdivision schools made money in 2007-08, while the remaining 302 Division I schools struggled to break even.

Twenty-five percent, or 119 FBS schools, had overall profits. A 96-team bracket likely would end the 73-year-old, 32-team NCAA-run NIT, which would be discontinued.

The tournament wouldn’t start any earlier or end any later, but there would be more weekday games after the first weekend.

The teams in the six BCS conferences will basically have a cake walk into the field of 96 in comparison with the 25 other conferences. Over the past two seasons, 65 percent, (or about 48 of the 73 BCS schools) would have gotten into a 96 team tournament. That makes up exactly half of the 96 bids. That leaves the other 274 Division I basketball teams fighting for the other 48 spots (17 percent of the 274 will get in).

It could happen as soon as next season or in four years, but one thing seems to be certain. The 96-team bracket seems like a done deal.