Coaches' thoughts on a 68-team field
Just back from the recruiting road a day earlier, college basketball coaches on Thursday were as caught off guard as casual fans with the news that the NCAA had inked a 14-year deal with CBS/Turner and would expand the NCAA tournament to 68 teams.
With 24 hours to digest the news, ESPN.com decided to catch up with a few of those coaches to see how they liked the slightly amped-up Big Dance. For initial reaction from Jim Boeheim, Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Calhoun, click here.
On The Move To 68
Most everyone agreed that Thursday's announcement was a good one. Whether they liked the idea of a 96-team tournament or not, the general consensus was that college basketball earned a W with the NCAA's announcement.
Kansas' Bill Self: "I think the announcement was a positive day for college basketball. I don't think it satisfies expansion, but it's good for the game.''
Indiana's Tom Crean: "I myself would have loved to see it go to 96. Anything that adds more pageantry is great, but it's such an outstanding event that so many people look forward to, this isn't a bad answer.''
Xavier's Chris Mack: "I actually don't see a way to be a huge proponent or opponent of it. It's just not that drastic of a change.''
Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg: "It's a start. It makes sense if you're going to start venturing into expansion to start here. We already have a process where there is an opening-round game. We know it works. If it works for one, it will work for four, so let's start here. It gives us a chance to breathe, to evaluate it, to study it and find out, if we want to expand, what the right number is.''
Davidson's Bob McKillop: "My concern is with diminishing excellence. Our society has done that too much. We have the whole year to play for the tournament spot. You earn it by what you did all year. I've been in the position to be incredibly disappointed come Selection Sunday. On two occasions we were undefeated in the conference, but eliminated in the conference tournament. It's a tough pill to swallow but we had games to win and didn't and those are the consequences. I've heard about how expansion will help save coaches' jobs. Ask Dino Gaudio about that. Talk to Sean Kearney or Bobby Lutz. This just creates another threshold. Getting in is no big deal. Now it's about advancing. So as far as 68, it's not 96. That's the best I can say about it.''
On The Television Package
Second only to the news that the tournament would expand was the news that the NCAA had signed a television deal that would put every NCAA tournament game on one of four national networks: CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV. The coaches I talked to universally loved the news.
Greenberg: "People kill me for this all the time, but the one great thing about the NIT is, we played two more ESPN national television games. It was a non-compete night, so if you're a basketball fan, that's what you're watching. Now this opens the door for everyone in the NCAA tournament. There's no split feeds and that's very important.''
Self: "Without question the television deal will make the tournament better. With the economy the way it is and not knowing the future in regards to that, giving the NCAA more windows to sell is a great business move. It helps us and it helps them.''
Mack: "The television package is a huge benefit, being that every game is nationally televised. That's an awesome deal for both the NCAA tournament and the partner schools.''
McKillop: "It's a wonderful reward for earning the opportunity to get to the NCAA tournament. I recruit very aggressively overseas and I have friends and acquaintances that stay up all hours to watch the games. It's an international showcase, so the television package is a wonderful thing.''
On Who Should Be In The Opening-Round Games
It will likely be summer before the NCAA announces just how the additional teams will be selected and how the tournament will be run. Will there be four opening-round games, and if so, what teams will be in them? The coaches have some ideas.
O'Neil: What about the first four games?
The NCAA announced it would be expanding the men's basketball tournament to 68 teams, not 96. Bravo. Now keep the goodwill train going and make the four opening-round games a play-in between at-large teams. Story
• Gasaway: Have eight lowest play
• Blog: What will most likely occur
• Shaheen explains 68-team logistics
• Katz: How field should be formatted
• O'Neil: What the coaches are saying
• Forde: NCAA proves itself savvy
• Brennan: What we know/don't know
• Lunardi: Missed out on expansion
• Leung: Initial player reaction positive
Crean: "As a fan, I'm not that excited about anyone playing in a play-in game. If you put yourself to be in a position to be in the tournament, you should be in the tournament. Why shortchange a couple of teams and make them feel like they're on the outside looking in?''
Greenberg: "We already have a system for the opening-round game -- why eliminate it? It's already been tested and it works. Go by the seeds. Why would you want to eliminate a higher seed like that? The only change I'd suggest is the games be played at the sites where the winner will stay rather than a neutral site.''
Self: "I don't know if it makes that much of a difference. No matter what, there are going to be 17 teams seeded in each bracket. I think the most competitive games would be the 16 against the 17.''
McKillop: "That's a selfish one for me. I want what's best for college basketball, but I do believe the teams in the opening-round games get as much satisfaction and joy and feeling of accomplishment with the play-in games.''
Is This The End Of Expansion?
During Thursday's teleconference, NCAA interim president Jim Isch left the door open for further expansion down the road. He labeled the field as 68 teams "for now" and said that "everything is on the table.'' Coaches are just as curious about where the 68-team tourney might lead.
Self: "I'd guess that 68 could be an intermediate step, but I also don't think it's bad for a couple of years to play it this way and see how it is. To go to 96 is a significant change. You've got three games in a week, all sorts of things that could dramatically impact the tournament a lot more than 68. So I'd say let's try this before we move to further expansion.''
Crean: "I don't think any of us know that, but as a fan I would have loved 96. It's the NCAA tournament, something everyone dreams about playing in. When you participate there's nothing like it and when you don't, it's not a good feeling. If we're going to talk about parity and building all these programs up, why not give them a chance to showcase themselves?''
McKillop: "I don't spend a lot of energy thinking about a crystal ball, but I'm on record with how I feel about 96.'' (Hint: He's against it.)
Greenberg: "I think conference commissioners were concerned that 96 would take away from the regular season and especially the conference tournaments, which haven't done as well as they have in the past. So this gives us a chance to really evaluate postseason play and find out what the number that works.''
Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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