NCAA officials settle on format for 68-team basketball tourney

Published 10:59 pm Saturday, July 3, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS — The NCAA has settled on the format for the new 68-team men’s basketball tournament, though the announcement isn’t scheduled until sometime next week.

The Division I men’s basketball committee reached its decision after studying a number of options and discussing feedback during meetings in Chicago, said David Worlock, associate director of the March Madness tournament.

Details were not disclosed.

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“We discussed several options, just trying to not leave any stone unturned,” said committee member Laing Kennedy, the athletic director at Kent State.

The NCAA announced in April that it would add three teams to the field, the first expansion for the tournament since it went from 64 to 65 in 2001 after going from 48 to 64 in 1985. The new format is scheduled to take effect next March.

NCAA officials recommended the 68-team field after the public loudly complained that going to 80 or 96 teams would water down the NCAA’s marquee event, and network executives insisted they did not need more tourney games to make a profit on the next television contract — a 14-year, $10.8 billion television package with CBS and Turner Broadcasting.

A 96-team field likely would have enveloped the 32-team NIT, the NCAA’s other, independently run season-ending tournament. Instead, the expansion was much more modest, but it was not without hurdles.

The committee was known to have looked at at least three possibilities. One would slot the bottom eight teams in the tournament into the opening round and have them play for the right to move on to the round of 64.

Another option would put the last eight at-large teams to make the field into the play-in games. There was also talk of a hybrid plan that could include both at-large teams and automatic qualifiers.

Committee chair Dan Guerrero, the athletic director at UCLA, has said putting the eight lowest-seeded teams in the opening-round games would help the selection committee stay “true to the seed process.”

One of the issues for the committee was how to handle schools from smaller conferences that don’t want to be consistently forced to play in additional early-round games. Since the tournament increased to 65 teams in 2001 and added a play-in game, a school from the Southwestern Athletic Conference has been sent to that game five times.

The committee also had to figure out when and where the opening-round games will be played. Guerrero has said there’s a good chance the opening round will stay in Dayton, Ohio.