NCAA presents a plan to expand March Madness tournaments

Jun 20, 2024, 8:30 PM

Final Four logo...

A detail view of the Final Four logo during the trophy ceremony after the Connecticut Huskies beat the Purdue Boilermakers 75-60 to win the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament National Championship game at State Farm Stadium on April 08, 2024 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The NCAA has presented a plan to Division I conference commissioners that would expand the lucrative men’s and women’s basketball tournaments by four or eight teams alongside an option to leave each field at 68 teams, according to a person familiar with the details.

The proposals were outlined to the commissioners this week by NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt and NCAA Vice President for Women’s Basketball Lynn Holzman, the person told The Associated Press on Thursday on condition of anonymity because no official announcements have been made. The news was first reported by Yahoo! Sports.

Under the proposal, expansion of the 68-team field included both four- and eight-team models. The NCAA would keep its 64-team bracket but would add play-in games involving the 10 through 12 seeds.

If the men’s tournament were to expand it is expected the women’s tourney would as well.

“It is appropriate to look at expansion, and we need to do that,” Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner James Phillips said Thursday during the Associated Press Sports Editors summer conference. “We’re looking at it.”

He didn’t go into details on the proposal, which he said now “goes in front of the basketball committee, basketball oversight.”

“When do you get to the point when the regular season doesn’t matter?” he added. “Modest expansion is something I would prefer.”

Many in college basketball have said they believe the 68-team fields and three weekends of play are ideal but pressure has grown to add teams and games to one of the most popular sports events on the U.S. calendar. Last year, the NCAA Division I board of directors approved recommendations that included allowing one quarter of teams in larger sports to compete in championship events; in that scenario, March Madness tourneys could expand to nearly 90 teams.

The NCAA is currently in the midst of an eight-year extension of its TV deal for the men’s tournament worth $8.8 billion that runs through 2032. That would not be expected to change if a handful of teams are added.

More games would provide a small boost through ticket sales and merchandise, but the pool of money the NCAA uses to pay out conferences and member schools would essentially stay the same. What could change, however, is how that money would be divided up if the tournament broadens.

Expansion would also mean the men’s tournament would have to find an additional site besides Dayton for its First Four games. The Ohio city already has games on Tuesday and Wednesday and wouldn’t be able to host additional play-in games ahead of the tourney’s traditional first-round opening on Thursday. Women’s play-in games are at the same campus sites as the first two rounds of the tournament.

Expansion is largely backed by larger conferences and smaller leagues do not want to lose the automatic bids that come with a conference tournament championship or face the prospect of always being slotted for the play-in games.

The earliest the NCAA Tournament could expand would be the 2025-26 season, the person told AP. The NCAA basketball oversight committee meets next week and the tournament selection committee has a meeting next month.

The men’s tournament last expanded in 2011 when it went from 64 to 68 teams. The women’s tournament matched that in 2022.

The women’s tournament is coming off its most successful year ever that included a record audience of 18.7 million for the title game win by South Carolina over Iowa, the highest for a basketball broadcast of any kind in five years. It outdrew the men’s championship game — UConn winning its second consecutive title with a win over Purdue — by nearly 3 million viewers. The women’s tournament also had record attendance.

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