There’s nothing quite like the feeling of hearing the teams for March Madness every year. The teams somehow seem to leak a few hours before and many fan bases are left outraged at their exclusion from the tournament. Think about what it would be like without this selection process. Every team would just automatically make the tournament. It would be like the Virginia vs. UMBC game all over again but with way more of them. The tournament would consist of literal madness but it honestly sounds awesome. This proposal is what the ACC Basketball coaches put forward on Wednesday, Sept. 9 for the upcoming season.
The idea of playing a tournament with over 340 teams as opposed to 68 is definitely a novel concept. However, it is a unique year, to say the least, and no tournament went on in 2020. The idea, which is being spearheaded by Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, is an attempt to level the playing field. This season will be strange and it is likely that teams will have differing numbers of regular season games due to a variety of factors surrounding COVID-19. As a result, the ‘Selection Sunday’ release of 68 teams would undoubtedly be blatantly unfair to some teams while unjustly favoring others.
“This is not a regular season,” Krzyzewski said in a statement. “It is clearly an irregular season that will require something different. Our sport needs to be agile and creative.”
In addition to wanting an expanded tournament, sources have told ESPN that many ACC coaches do not want to play non-conference games in an effort to control the COVID-19 protocols further. The coaches all voted on Wednesday before relaying the message broadly. Wake Forest coach Steve Forbes gave his statement on Twitter:
“I am so proud to stand UNITED with every coach in the ACC in the belief that every Division I college basketball program should be allowed to participate in the NCAA Tournament this year!” Forbes tweeted. “This is what’s best for our student-athletes, fans and the sport of college basketball. It will incentivize everyone that loves and cares about our great sport during these unprecedented times, and it will provide a safe environment for all to participate in. LET’S GET THIS DONE!”
In theory, I love the idea, I really do. But in practice, I just don’t see how this works. There would be 346 Division I schools eligible for this year. The NBA only had 22 teams in the bubble and it has still been quite a feat to pull off. We are talking about 324 more schools somehow managing to follow protocols with around 25 people per team, give or take. Upwards of 8,000 people would then have to be tested and quarantined, with more and more leaving after each game. I love the idea of ‘celebrating’ basketball and giving everyone the opportunity to play in the tournament this year. I’m just not so sure on how it works.
As of right now, the NCAA has been insistent that the end goal is to have a traditional 68-team tournament on the normal March-April timeline in 2021. However, NCAA president Mark Emmert said in August that an NCAA tournament in a bubble environment with fewer than 68 teams could occur.
“Starting with 64 teams is tough. Thirty-two, okay, maybe that’s a manageable number. Sixteen, certainly manageable. But you’ve got to figure out those logistics,” Emmert said in an interview on the NCAA’s website from last month, “There’s doubtlessly ways to make that work.”
Basketball season is a long ways away both literally and mentally. The beginning of the NCAA basketball season still has not even been approved, but will be voted on Sept. 16. According to Dana O’Neil of The Athletic, the start date for men’s and women’s college basketball is expected to be Nov. 25.
Whatever way, shape or form this basketball season and NCAA tournament take, I have no doubt it will be great. The men’s tournament in particular makes up the majority of the NCAA’s annual revenue, last year reaching over $1.1 billion. Normally, a lot of that money is returned to each school every year, and universities will be desperate for their 2021 tournament payout to keep their programs afloat and thriving. It seems like the impossible is happening with college football kicking off this weekend so hey, maybe we will see a 346-team tournament after all. In this day and age, it’s truly worth exploring every option to ensure a safe continuation of every possible sports season.