Talk of expanding the NCAA tournament is almost always done in public, most notably by Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim in 2006.
Now, the Indianapolis-based NCAA is looking into it behind closed doors—at least preliminarily.
discussion of a popular topic outside the organization, the NCAA has held early stage talks about expanding its men’s basketball
tournament and possibly moving it from broadcast to cable TV.
But don’t worry, purists. No changes are imminent.
"We’re just in a due diligence phase of examining all of our assets and among those things is men’s basketball,"
NCAA senior vice president Greg Shaheen said Thursday. "Certainly, with all of the other championships we’re studying
structure, schedule and format on all of them. There are no talks as it relates to a particular topic. It’s just part of our
due diligence process."
The impetus for the conversations revolves around the NCAA’s 11-year, $6 billion contract
The NCAA can opt out of the final three years of the contract after this season. The organization’s brass
has eyed the opt-out for several years, following the orders of late NCAA president Myles Brand to look at every possibility
for all 88 of its championships—the men’s basketball tournament included.
"We’re having very general
study and conversation as we go," said Shaheen, the senior vice president of basketball and business strategies. "We’ve
been working on this phase of the process for years. When I took over the contracts in early ’04, Dr. Brand’s very first directive
to me was to make sure we’re readily on position for the due diligence phase several years from now—and now is the time."
The NCAA tournament expanded from 48 teams to 64 in 1985 and expanded to the current 65-team bracket in 2001, when
the number of automatic bids was increased from 30 to 31.
The idea of expanding the tournament has been raised
numerous times over the years.
Boeheim said three years ago at a meeting of the National Association of Basketball
Coaches that the tournament should add four, maybe six more teams. Others have called to raise it to 80 teams or make it 96
and fold in the National Invitation Tournament. Former UCLA coach John Wooden has said the tournament should include all the
teams in Division I, which exceeds 300 this season.
Purists want to leave it as is.
"Most of the
discussions have been done in a public forum and there are varied perspectives and models out there," Shaheen said.
The NCAA also has contacted various networks about the possibility of moving the tournament from broadcast to cable.
The organization already has a contract for 23 of its championships with ESPN, which signed a lucrative deal with
the BCS last year, and syndicates others with various cable and video outlets.
If the opt out does happen, CBS
isn’t likely going to go down without a fight. The network has broadcast the NCAA tournament since 1982 and isn’t likely to
let one of its biggest sports assets go away easily.
CBS spokeswoman LeslieAnne Wade declined to comment.