NCAA tourney to stay 65 for now

Updated: June 30, 2006, 9:36 AM ET
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- The NCAA's little guys could still get locked out of the most lucrative championship event in college sports -- even after George Mason's improbable tournament run last year.

On Thursday, the men's basketball committee announced it rejected a coaches' proposal to nearly double the size of the NCAA Tournament field from 65 to 128, calling expansion unnecessary and not imminent.

It also voted down a more modest offer that would have added fewer than eight teams to the bracket and increasing the number of opening-round games in Dayton, Ohio.

"There is no enthusiasm on the part of the committee to expand the tournament at this time," Craig Littlepage, chairman of the men's basketball committee, said in a statement. "In the interest of sustaining the quality of the tournament, the committee has decided to maintain the current structure."

The women's committee, in an almost identical statement, also rejected expansion.

"The committee is committed to the growth of the game and the championship," chairwoman Joni Comstock said. "We will continue to work with membership groups to assess, identify and provide additional and equitable competition opportunities for women's basketball student-athletes."

Men's committee members considered information about the quality of competition, logistics, television ratings and the overall popularity of the event.

After meeting for five days, the 10 committee members determined the tournament would be best served by remaining at 65 teams.

Thursday's announcement ends, for now, a debate that Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim started during this year's Final Four.

Boeheim argued George Mason's tournament success was indicative of the parity in college basketball and argued more teams should be rewarded for strong seasons so eventual contenders are not left out.

At the time, Boeheim also said he supported increasing the number of teams by three to seven.

Last month, however, National Association of Basketball Coaches executive director Jim Haney told NCAA officials the coaches' group supported a bracket of 128 teams. One reason, Haney said, was that more postseason bids would provide coaches with greater job security.

But Haney acknowledged last week the proposal was unlikely to win committee approval this year. A message was left by The Associated Press at Haney's office following the announcement.

Coaches argue that since the last significant expansion, from 48 to 64 teams in 1985, the number of Division I teams has increased dramatically and that mid-major schools have become more competitive. A 65th team was added in 2001 when the number of automatic bids increased from 30 to 31.

They also cited George Mason's postseason success as an example of a team that could have easily been kept out of the tournament altogether but still managed to reach the Final Four.

Those arguments did not sway committee members.

One concern among NCAA officials is keeping the men's tournament and women's tournament, which has 64 teams, on similar formats.

This week's meetings marked the first time in several years expansion was even discussed, and the committee called it a worthy topic.

But the committee made no announcement about whether it would reconsider expansion again in the near future.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

ALSO SEE