Field of 128? Coaches want NCAA tourney expanded

INDIANAPOLIS -- In a perfect world, college basketball
coaches would nearly double the size of the 65-team NCAA men's
tournament field. Realistically, they'd accept a smaller victory.

Motivated in part by George Mason's remarkable Final Four run
last season, coaches will urge the NCAA to expand its most
lucrative championship event during the men's and women's
basketball committee meetings in Orlando, Fla., this week.

"They'd love to see the tournament double to 128," said Jim
Haney, executive director of the National Association of Basketball
Coaches. "It's based on several things. First, there are a lot of
good teams worthy of making the NCAA field, and second, the size of
64 or 65 has been in place for a number of years."

Potential models range from minor adjustments to major changes.

When Haney met with NCAA officials last month, he proposed the
128-team field in part because postseason bids may help coaches
keep their jobs.

At this year's Final Four, though, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim
said he supported expansion on a smaller scale. Boeheim and others
suggested adding three to seven teams, a move they claimed would
allow as many as four opening-round games to be played in Dayton,
Ohio, instead of the one now played between the two lowest-seeded
teams in the field.

Some believe such a schedule would create a more realistic
tournament environment since first-round sites also play four games
on the first day.

But changes don't appear imminent.

In March, NCAA president Myles Brand said he didn't see much
support to expand the field and vice president for men's basketball
Greg Shaheen reiterated that point Friday.

"Many, many people believe the size of the championship is just
right," Shaheen said. "A lot of people think there's enough
recognition of teams that did well and there's a logical and timely
conclusion to the season."

Shaheen said this week's discussions, which end Thursday, will
mark the first time expansion has been on the agenda in several
years. The reason?

After a four-year legal battle with the National Invitation
Tournament, the NCAA agreed to buy the tournament for $56.5 million
last August.

Expansion also faces additional hurdles.

If the NCAA opted for a 128-team field, the number of
first-round sites would double and an extra week of play would
likely be added. Plus, Shaheen said the NCAA would have to debate
how best to provide maximum television coverage.

Shaheen said changes would also have to be made in conjunction
with the women's tournament.

"There is no one model that is obvious here, and that's
something we need to contemplate," he said. "The other issue is
how the women's tournament would be similarly impacted here and
they need to coincide."

The coaches, however, contend there are many reasons to expand.
Among their arguments:

" The number of Division I teams has increased significantly
since the last major expansion more than two decades ago. The field
went from 48 to 64 teams in 1985, then added a 65th team to the
field in 2001 when the number of automatic bids went from 30 to 31.

" George Mason, which was one of the last at-large teams to make
the field this year, proved parity in college basketball is real.
The combination of prominent programs losing underclassmen at
faster rates and scholarship reductions have helped mid-major
schools become more competitive. The coaches believe they deserved
to be rewarded accordingly.

" Now that the NCAA controls both postseason tournaments,
coaches think it's time to include some of the bubble teams that
annually complain when they are left out.

Could it happen?

"I don't think the idea of doubling the field is going to
happen right now because there are too many complications to do
that," Haney said. "But I think the committee will seriously
consider what the number will be. ... I think if it happens, it
will have to happen soon because of the logistical issues."