Thoughts on sports: Expanding the tournament
College football has been criticized for it's elitist group of BCS schools, from which the national champion always emerges. This year Utah probably should have had the chance to play for the number one spot, but was shutout by the BCS system which looks to be on more uneven ground every year as non-BCS teams beat big name BCS members. Could a major college playoff system in football be installed to proclaim a national champion? It seems everyone (except a few that get large amounts of money from the present system) would like to see that happen.
Often this poor system of selecting a football champion is compared to what is done in college basketball; a pure playoff, one game at a time, deciding who will advance and who will go home.
But let ourselves not be fooled by this seemingly "fair" way of dealing with finding the best in the land. It too is about money and the expansion of the basketball tournament since the 1970's shows how that has taken place.
Since the field expanded to 64 teams (from 48) in 1985 there certainly has been a growth in the number of major colleges in the pool. An ESPN report in 2005 said that the number of Division I teams has increased significantly since that last major expansion more than two decades ago. In addition in 2001 the NCAA added a 65th team for a play in game to get into the tournament. That was added to accommodate a team that was close to getting into the 64 but didn't quite make it.
Many of the schools that are "new" to the scene get left out because their conferences or records just don't justify them getting into the top 65. When you look at the schools that are invited to the big dance each year, it often does look very much like the same list as the year before and the year before that.
Now there are some people who want to see the field expanded to 128 teams. Imagine that; of around 300 Division I colleges more than a third would get into the tournament. Some say we need the change because there are so many more schools to qualify now. I say it is because the power conferences want more teams in play for a championship. They feel cut out when their mid-conference level teams with 6-5 record are left out of the big dance, while a smaller, less impressive team from a less prestigious conference gets in because it won its conference title.
The other thing that has happened to make the field tighter is the fact that all conferences now have post season tournaments. When those first started I thought they were ridiculous; but for some reason they caught on. Suddenly every conference had one. It became the norm that if a team won the regular season and then lost in the tournament, that conference would always get two teams into the NCAA tournament.
I foresee a tournament with 128 teams not much different than the one we have now, except bigger. Oh yes, some teams like New Jersey Tech might be in the big dance, but most of the expanded slots would be filled with teams from the Big 10, the ACC, the PAC 10 and other power conferences. It would be like a packed lottery; the more pieces of paper you have in the hat the bigger the chance that you would have to arrive at the doorstep of the championship trophy.
The tournament really is like a dance. If you have ever been on a crowded dance floor, you know it's no fun. You can hardly move, and the dance becomes a bore. And regardless of how good a dancer you are, you just become another person in the crowd.
And that's the way it would be if the NCAA went to 128 teams at their big party. I say keep it the way it is and make it so teams have to really scrap to get in.
That's what makes for the best tournament.