Delany calls larger tourney 'probable'

Updated: March 31, 2010, 2:37 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

An expanded 96-team NCAA men's basketball tournament starting in 2011, the subject of much debate during the current incarnation of March Madness, is considered "probable" by Big Ten conference commissioner Jim Delany.

Delany, speaking to USA Today for a story published Wednesday, used "probable" when asked how he expects discussions about expansion to play out. The newspaper said Delany considers moving from the current 65-team field to 96 likely.

Delany is a high-profile voice in intercollegiate athletics, though he is not currently involved in the NCAA decision-making process. He is a former chairman of the NCAA men's basketball committee.

He also has voiced concerns in the past about an expanded tournament, citing the potential dilution of the regular season as one reason for his caution.

"I'm not looking to see the basketball season made less relevant because we do an expansion without knowing a lot about this," he told The Sporting News in February.

The NCAA can opt out of its current tournament broadcast contract with CBS after this season. It has three years, $2.131 billion remaining of an original 11-year, $6 billion contract.

Some have said that an extra round of 31 games would make the tournament a more valuable television property. The decision has to be made by this summer. The NCAA asked television networks for their thoughts in a request for proposals sent out earlier this year.

Ultimately, the college presidents will decide if the tournament is worth more on the open market.

The possibility of expanding the tournament has been a hotly debated topic the past month. Several prominent coaches, including Villanova's Jay Wright, have campaigned for expansion, noting that only 65 of 344 NCAA Division I teams currently make the tournament. There are 32 more teams in the NCAA-owned NIT.

Wright and others have compared that with football, where 68 of 119 teams in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision earn a bowl bid. Critics have countered that only two get to play for a BCS national title.

The NCAA does not have a postseason tournament in the FBS. There is a postseason playoff system set up for the Division I Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-AA), as well as Division II and Division III.

"The opportunity to decide what's going to happen with our revenue is a big deal," Greg Shaheen, the senior vice president for basketball and business strategies with the NCAA, told The New York Times earlier this month. "It's what a lot of institutions rely on for their athletic programs. That's a centerpiece to why all this happens. It's easy to say you don't want change. But simply put, it's what's appropriate to operate in our best interest."

The next meeting of the NCAA board is April 21 in Indianapolis. Oregon State president Ed Ray, a member of the executive committee, told USA Today: "Conventional wisdom must be that it's not impossible. Otherwise, I don't know why we'd have it scheduled for discussion. But I have absolutely no sense [of] whether it's probable or not."

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.