If the NCAA expands its men's basketball tournament to 96 teams, Paul Hewitt probably will cheer. "We have  Division I teams now, and only 65 are going," the Georgia Tech coach said. "We've increased it by one since 1985. That just doesn't make a whole lot of sense."
Mark Fox sees the situation differently, saying that any substantial addition to the field would dilute the "magical" event. "To reach the tournament should be a very special accomplishment," the Georgia coach said. "There are not 96 teams that are deserving to go."
The debate is on.
The controversial issue of enlarging the tournament -- of tinkering with the national spectacle known as March Madness -- has come up as part of potential TV negotiations.
University of Georgia president Michael Adams, a member of the NCAA Division I board of directors, expects to be briefed on the matter at the board's next meeting. Until then, he said, he will take no position.
"I haven't heard the presentations," Adams said. "I'm told we're going to hear them at the April board meeting, and I want to wait until I can evaluate all of that."
In a request-for-proposal (RFP) issued to TV networks and obtained by Sports Business Journal, the NCAA said it is considering expanding the field to as many as 96 teams. The RFP also included the possibility of a modest expansion to 68 teams.
A 68-team field would add three play-in games to the one already held and would not alter the tournament's basic framework. But a larger expansion, while likely bringing in more TV money, might alter the rhythm of what has become one of America's favorite sporting events.
Georgia's Fox favors the modest approach.
"Having come from a school [Nevada] where we looked at that process very closely, I think the NCAA tournament would be best served and most easily adjusted by going to 68 teams," Fox said. "You would not have to add any more TV weekends. You wouldn't have to change the basic structure of the tournament.
"Usually there are not many more than one or two teams that have a legitimate argument about being left out. I don't think you should dilute the tournament by going much bigger than that."
A 96-team field, Fox said, would be seriously dilutive.
"There are not 96 programs," he said, "that schedule in the non-conference in a way that says they're dying to get to the NCAA tournament and are willing to do what it takes."
Tech's Hewitt noted that even under the most aggressive proposal, a smaller percentage of Division I basketball programs would reach the tournament than the percentage of I-A football teams that reach bowl games.
"It should be expanded," Hewitt said of the tournament. "The obvious cry is going to be, ‘Well, coaches are just trying to save their jobs.' I look at the bowl season, and I see that 50 percent [actually 56.7 percent] of the teams play in bowl games. And I see the emotion those kids have after they win a bowl game, how good they feel about themselves. That should be a part of college basketball. I think you should have more kids participate in the NCAA tournament."
A 96-team tournament would provide berths for 27.7 percent of the 347 Division I teams. The 34 bowl games last season provided spots for 68 of the 120 I-A football teams.
Hewitt said he "would be afraid of extending the season" but suggested the regular season could be cut back, particularly some of the week-day games.
Georgia State coach Rod Barnes said it's "a good idea" to expand the tournament. How many teams should be added, he doesn't know. But he would like it to be enough to accommodate teams in the non-power leagues that have superb regular seasons but are excluded from March Madness if they fail to win their conference tournaments.
"You have teams with great records being left out," Barnes said. "When these kids play on teams that have won 23 and 24 games but don't get in because their team didn't win their [conference] tournament, I just don't agree with that. I just think that if you go out every night and play decent against the teams that are on your schedule and in your conference and you win 23 and 24 games, you should get in."
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski tends to agree with Barnes.
Krzyzewski said last month that he's "all right either way," with the tournament at its current size or super-sized. But he added that if the tournament expands to 96 teams, he would want all regular-season conference champions to get automatic berths along with the conference tournament champs.
"That would give the conferences who don't get more than one bid a chance to get two bids," Krzyzewski said. "If you expand, you would want that to happen."
If the tournament goes to 96 teams, Kryzewski proposed that 32 teams receive first-round byes, "and then after one set of games you're back to the 64."
The issue is on the table because the NCAA is considering whether to opt out of the final three years of its 11-year, $6 billion contract with CBS after this season's Final Four. According to Sports Business Journal, the NCAA's request-for-proposal outlines a scenario in which an over-the-air network and a cable network could split the games in a 96-team tournament and alternate years carrying the Final Four. Under that scenario, SBJ said Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting and CBS could make a joint bid for the TV rights.
"The NCAA tournament is a strong property that would fit our brands," a Turner spokesman said Thursday, "but as with any sports rights, an acquisition must make economic sense for our company."
First, the NCAA must decide what makes sense for the tournament.
"I think it's healthy to always explore different options," said Georgia athletics director Damon Evans, a member of the NCAA executive committee. "I think that's what's being done now. I can't say whether I'm in favor of 96 or opposed to 96, because I just don't know enough about it yet. It's a wait-and-see type of deal for me."
Correspondent Pierce W. Huff contributed to this article.
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