Earlier this year, the NCAA Board of Directors expanded the Men’s NCAA Tournament by three teams, from 65 teams to 68, far fewer than the expansion to 96 many people had expected. Although there had been a call by some over the years to expand the tournament to 96 or even 128 teams, many coaches are pleased with the changes made to the tournament.
“The impact I think it’s gonna have is that you’re talking about an average of twelve kids on three teams-that’s 36 more student athletes that will get to experience what I think is the most special event in amateur sport,” said Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey, whose program fell just short of the NCAA tournament in 2004, 2005, and 2009. “That’s always been my attitude of why we needed to expand,” he said.
Brey wasn’t the only one to view the addition as a positive.
“I’m delighted” said St. Joseph’s Head Coach Phil Martelli. “I think it’s the proper growth for this tournament–due diligence was done in terms of studying what’s really appropriate for this market treasure which is March Madness and I’m anxious now to see how it’s going to be administered,” he finished.
Prior to the announcement on April 29 of this year, rumors had surfaced that the NCAA was looking to expand the Division 1 basketball tournament to 96. Had that scenario played out, it would have dealt a deadly blow to the historic National Invitational Tournament.
“If the tournament had gone to 96, then the NIT would have gone away,” said NIT selection committee chair Charles M. Newton. “If that’s what’s best for college basketball to have one tournament involving 96 teams and not have the NIT then that’s fine with me but I don’t think that’s the best thing for college basketball since it lessens the importance of the season,” he said.
Luckily for Newton, he’ll still have a tournament to oversee for now.
The NIT, which was first played in 1938 (one year before NCAA tournament was first played) and was formerly the tournament the best teams in college basketball sought most to play in, will still have a role in housing the best of the rest from college basketball after the NCAA tournament was selected. Despite the positive feedback, agreeing upon how many teams should be in the field was harder to do.
“I [hope and think] we’ll see more teams down the road but this is a very good start,” Brey said. If that bracket with 96 teams eventually comes to fruition down the road then I think it’ll be a good thing because based on the four years we played in the NIT, we know there’s good teams that play in it.”
Brey may feel that the expansion to a 96 team field is something that needs to be explored in the future but Martelli was not as receptive. He felt the move “improved on perfection” because he felt going to too many more than 68 would not have been a good thing.
“96 would have been a watering down of the NCAA tournament and potentially would have been detrimental to coaches careers,” Martelli said. “[They have the right number with 68 teams] and now you’re gonna have four teams and four groups of kids that are gonna have the experience of winning a game and to me that is absolutely sensational.”