So, the NCAA made the announcement today that it is opting out of its current deal for the men's basketball tournament and signing a new deal in which CBS and Turner will team up to broadcast March Madness for the next 14 years (or until they opt out early again to try and squeeze more money out of the next television partner).
Oh, and they announced they'll be expanding the field to 68 teams.
That part of the deal was roundly met with cheers from the college basketball community, as most assumed an expansion to 96 teams was all but inevitable. But really, this whole dog and pony show by the NCAA is rather silly.
Let me ask you one question: Do you think CBS and Turner needed to partner up to bring you a tournament with three more games in it? Forget all that talk about this partnership allowing all games to be on TV. All games were already online, a technology I would assume most people with expanded cable already possess or will possess in the coming years.
No, this partnership is all about laying the groundwork for a 96-team tournament. Which is why I don't understand all the joy today.
Sure, it means there won't be a 96-team tournament next year. But what about the year after that? The tournament chair said today that "everything is still on the table." It's clear that 96 is an inevitability, and all this does is appease people and let the wound scab up for a year or two until it's picked off again, at which time the indignation of fans and media will swing right back into full force.
For that reason, I'll never understand why the NCAA didn't just make the move now. I suppose it's possible that it just wasn't logistically possible to expand to 96 teams next year, but I find that notion silly. There are plenty of arenas in this country. How hard can it be to schedule 16 games?
Actually, I do understand -- the organization is run by a bunch of gutless, wishy-washy wimps who think they're going to make everyone like them by pretending to listen to the public outcry. Of course, this also helps them keep up the sham of the notion of "student athlete" for at least a couple of more years.
And from listening to the love going around today, you'd have thought college basketball fans had won some sort of moral victory. If only.
Do I like 68 teams? I honestly don't have much of an opinion on it one way or the other -- it certainly isn't any worse than the stupid 65-team setup they've got now. Actually, dumping four terrible teams from the field before the tournament really gets underway probably is better than just putting two teams out in front in an effort to squeeze one more major conference at-large into the field. At least now those two teams won't be lonely, I suppose.
But where does it end? Pretty soon, there will be 76 teams -- no big deal because, you know, those 15 seeds hardly ever win. From there, it's 84 because those 14 seeds hardly ever win, either.
And then 96.
Where they should just have gone in the first place instead of going through this silly song and dance.
It might surprise regular readers to find out that I don't totally hate 96 teams. I'm certainly not an advocate of it -- 64 teams is perfect. But if the NCAA is determined to milk the cash cow for every last drop and ruin the best thing in sports in the process, I might as well look for the positives. The idea of eliminating 16 teams that generally have next-to-no shot of beating their first-round opponent, leaving what actually are roughly the 64 best teams in the country, is appealing. Every game in that round of 64 will have the potential for an upset. Much more drama than currently.
But I understand why many still hate the idea. And if you hate the idea, you should be unhappy today, because all this does is make that tournament feasible in the future. You might think today's announcement buys you a couple of more years of something resembling what you love about March, but the reality is that it's just one huge step toward what you hate.