Expansion of NCAA tournament now seen as likely

The allure of a bigger pay day for athletic directors and presidents of Big Ten schools is proving to be enough to earn their support for a plan to expand the NCAA basketball tournament to 96 teams.

And they said they’re not alone in their support of the idea. Big Ten officials are now saying expansion of the tournament next year is likely. The issue will be discussed at an April 29 NCAA board meeting.

As IBJ first reported in December, the NCAA is contemplating expanding its annual men’s basketball tournament from the current three-week, 65-team format to one featuring an added week and another 31 teams.

Proponents of the plan say it will generate a bigger television-rights deal for the not-for-profit NCAA, which disperses 95 percent of that revenue to member institutions.

Thoughts of expanding the tournament are heating up as a unilateral opt-out clause for the NCAA with its current TV partner, CBS, approaches. The NCAA signed an 11-year, $6 billion deal with CBS to air the tournament in 1999. The deal runs from 2003 through 2013, but the NCAA can end it after the 2010 tournament.

The NCAA has an option to end the deal following this year’s tournament and renegotiate with CBS and/or other broadcasters.

For more on the possible expansion, check out The Score blog.

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