OK, college hoops overlords. If you're intent on eroding my resistance until I accept a beefed-up NCAA Tournament, listen up.
Starting in 2001, it was a solitary play-in game two days before the main course. Very subtle.
Now it's four games, including two matchups that are noticeable upgrades from No. 16 seeds. Less subtle.
Initially, I cringed when we were force-fed these changes. Expansion is unlikely to add national title contenders to the field, so it felt like a cash grab as much as anything.
However, with the ranks of Division I men's hoops ballooning to 345 teams in recent years, this party needs more hors d'oeuvres. Besides, the NCAA Tournament's early stages aren't about powerhouses; they're about dragon slayers. The Lehighs. The VCUs. The Northwesterns.
Gotcha! That last one was a trick. Everyone knows the Wildcats are doomed to the NIT for eternity, no matter how big the NCAA tourney field is.
As for the Big Dance, make room for 96 teams, or 28 percent of D-I men's programs. That's not so large that the event forfeits its exclusivity.
Award automatic bids to regular-season conference winners as well as conference tournament champs. And if you want to make things really interesting—and prevent teams from surreptitiously tanking in their conference tourneys—guarantee a bye in the first round of the Big Dance to teams that sweep both titles.
Just don't entertain the thought of extending the regular season, lest March Madness slide into April Apathy. Instead, dive into conference schedules by mid-December at the latest. No one will be devastated if you subtract a week of the big boys playing snoozeworthy opponents before Christmastime. Wrap up conference tournaments a few days before Selection Sunday while you're at it, so fatigue is less of an issue.
Then, that Tuesday and Wednesday, give us two more days of basketball bliss. Sixteen games each day. More Cinderellas, more celebrations, more reasons to leave work early.
Go ahead and make the leap, NCAA powers-that-be. I won't be mad at ya.
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