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Some You Want More Teams?

Every so often the notion is raised that the NCAA Tournament should be expanded to include more teams. This year's bearer of that particular torch is Jim Boeheim, head coach at Syracuse. Boeheim is contending that greater parity necessitates expanding the tournament to include anywhere from 3 to 10 more teams who would most likely force the creation of more play-in games before the actual tournament starts rolling. In fact Clemson coach, Oliver Purnell agrees with Boeheim on the basis that George Mason was almost left out the field.

Wait a minute, Clemson's coach? Oh yeah, there is a relevant voice on the NCAA Tournament considering Clemson has not been it since 1998. In fact it has been that long since Clemson actually made it past Friday in the ACC Tournament! But I digress...

I would not actually be opposed to some sort of debate on this issue if I thought Jim Boeheim wasn't complete full of it. Boeheim could care less about parity or the poor little George Masons of the world which might get shafted by the big, bad selection committee on Selection Sunday. No, what is happening here is that Boeheim is afraid that Syracuse might get shafted by the committee on Selection Sunday. In fact if Gerry McNamara misses that three pointer against Cincinnati in the first round of the Big East Tournament, then Syracuse would have been NIT-bound. Boeheim, along with all of the other Big East schools have placed themselves in a very difficult position of forming a 16 team super conference which just enough parity in that unless you are an elite team then you will have a lot of trouble putting together a winning conference record.

So Boeheim has conceived a notion that if they can add anywhere from 3 to 10 teams to the tournament, they can then slide most of the 15 or 16 seeds from low major conferences into play-in games and bring in mediocre power conference schools who are missing spots due to some of the improved play from mid-majors. In other words, schools like Syracuse(before they won the Big East tournament and got in), Florida St, Maryland, and Cincinnati would have less to worry about if they finish at .500 in their conference because by going to 68 or 75 teams the tournament has room to include more mediocrity on the 8-12 seed line. Looking at the selections from the mid-major conferences it is clear that the selection committee gave those leagues all the bids they could with the exception of Hofstra who was rated virtually the same as George Mason. Common sense says that if you add 3 to 10 teams to the field, the committee will have no choice but to go back to the middle or bottom of the power conferences and include those borderline schools in order to fill out the field. And since they are rated much higher than many of the lower one bid conferences it would mean those power school selections would be seeded in the 8-12 range.

The other major flaw I find in the argument is that it supposes the parity we are seeing means more teams should be in the tournament. This is flat wrong. The parity shown this year in college basketball means that the gap between #64 and #1 is closer than it used to be and all throughout the middle lower seeded teams will be more competitive. The last thing you want to do is add more teams to the mix and increase that gap by watering down the field. Boeheim is also operating on the mentality that as long as he can get into the tournament, maybe they can have a run similar to what they enjoyed in the Big East Tournament where they knocked off three ranked teams in succession.

Of course there is nothing wrong with that, but Boeheim's assertion that the tournament should be tweaked to account for the George Masons of the world is disingenious since Syracuse was in the same boat as the Patriots, on the bubble. The truth is the mid-majors are maxed out on the number of teams they can conceivably put into the tournament so expanding it only helps the bubble dwelling power conference schools which in the new Big East there are plenty of. This is the bed the Big East made by forming such a powerful conference and now Jim Boeheim and his fellow conference coaches need to go lie in it. Or I have an even wackier idea. How about not scheduling cupcakes in Nov/Dec. and stop losing to the bottom feeders in your conference by 39 points before you go and ask the NCAA to bail your medicore rear end out in the form of a welfare program called "tournament expansion."