BENNER: Let Big Ten grow, but keep NCAA tournament as is

Is more better? Some think so.

Then again, you have multi-class high school basketball in Indiana.

I know. Let it go, Bill. Let it go.

But the concept of more being better could be coming to a couple of institutions we know well.

One is the Big Ten Conference.

The other is the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament.

First things first.

In December, the Big Ten said it was open to the possibility of its first expansion since 1993, when Penn State University
became the league’s 11th member and made the conference a misnomer, its catchy logo notwithstanding.

By nature, I’m a traditionalist (see multi-class basketball, above) but didn’t feel strongly for or against the
addition of the Nittany Lions, even if it did add one of the Big Ten’s most logistically difficult road trips. A former
Indiana University basketball coach once referred to Penn State as a “camping trip,” but, of course, that was
before he relocated to Texas Tech University which, by comparison, is a journey to the moon.

But I digress.

In retrospect, Penn State has been a worthy addition, adding a measure of balance of power in football and continuing to
be—more, rather than less—a guaranteed win for the league’s basketball powers.

Of course, the Big Ten will also tell you about the importance of Penn State’s “fit” as an academic and
research institution but, bottom line, it has been more about the numbers of eyes on television sets in the populous East.

Still, 11 is an odd number, indeed, especially with other of the so-called power conferences expanding to the minimum of
12 necessary to break into divisions and stage lucrative postseason league championship football games, while the Big Tenners
pretty much go into hibernation at Thanksgiving, waking only long enough to get their helmets kicked in—well, much of
the time, anyway—during the bowl season.

The popular theory is that rest is no compensation for rust.

Anyway, talk of expansion is now reportedly taking place in back rooms from Syracuse to Austin with the door cracked open
ever so slightly even in South Bend, where the University of Notre Dame athletic director, Jack Swarbrick, says both absolutely
not and maybe, depending on how the dominoes tumble. In the meantime, the Irish continue as a League of Their Own in football
while the other sports toil in the Big East.

I guess if I were a Domer, I wouldn’t apologize for not seeking a conference affiliation, even if it would mean less
travel for those other “student”-athletes, as if anyone really cares about them when football is the franchise,
replete with its own national television contract.

So, looking to the sunrise, that leaves us to consider Rutgers, Syracuse or Pittsburgh, or westward ho to Texas (seriously,
not a chance), Iowa State, Nebraska or Missouri.

My choice: Mizzou. The Tigers already have a significant rivalry with Illinois. They’d bring in the St. Louis and Kansas
City television markets and give the Big Ten a significant presence in Big 12 territory. They’d also provide the best
geographical balance, giving the Big Ten (and rest assured, it will remain being called the Big Ten) six teams each in the
Eastern and Central time zones and an easy Eastern Division-Western Division geographical split.

Think about this, too. The addition of a team from the East could place Indiana and Purdue in opposite divisions. That just
doesn’t seem right. But here’s the real local benefit: Indy and Lucas Oil Stadium would have to be at the top
of a very short list of places capable of hosting a lucrative Big Ten championship football game.

So, expansion. Bring it on.

But not so with the rumored expansion of the men’s basketball tournament. Indy’s own Greg Shaheen, who has risen
from local organizing committee volunteer to tournament czar, is leading the exploratory stage of expansion that not coincidentally
is timed with network negotiations.

The most prevalent theory going is a growth to 96 teams with the top 32 getting first-round byes and the tournament still
fitting in the three-week window.

Whatever the format and number, I’m not sold. College basketball’s regular season and the conference tournaments
still have meaning, and expansion would significantly de-value that. Neither would expansion end the debate about who gets
in and who is left out. In fact, it would broaden the argument.

The tournament isn’t broke. There’s no reason—financial or otherwise—to try to fix it.

Kind of like single-class Indiana high school basketball.

I know. Get over it.•

__________

Benner is director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist
for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. He can be reached at
bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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