What would a 90-team NCAA tournament look like?

On Jan. 3, the NCAA committee tasked with redefining the future of sports at major colleges issued 48 pages of extensive recommendations.

Among the many athlete-friendly ideas was a proposal that would radically change the crown jewel event that makes much of college athletics possible.

The Committee recommended expanding access to Division I championships across all sports so that more college athletes can experience post-season joy. He advocated expanding the size of championship fields in each sport to allow 25% of eligible teams to participate.

If it’s not clear what this will mean for the men’s basketball tournament, the math is simple: 25% of the 363 Division I teams will be roughly 90 players. This is a substantial increase from the 68 teams that have been the norm for over a decade.

To show just how low the bar would be for the 90-team NCAA Tournament, Sportzshala Sports bracketist Michael Lazarus predicted which teams would compete this season. Below you’ll find Laz’s estimated field of 68 teams as of Wednesday night, followed by 22 additional teams he says are up for big bids if the tournament expands.

(Illustration by Michael Wagstaffe/Yahoo Sports)
(Illustration by Michael Wagstaffe/Sportzshala Sports)

The main takeaway from Laz’s predicted field of 90 teams is how many extra spots will go to the top 6 competing teams. Villanova’s worst team in over a decade would have easily made it to the NCAA Tournament. As well as 16 wins in Florida, 17 wins at Seton Hall and every member of the Big 12. Yes, even Oklahoma is under .500.

There are 16 Power-Six programs among the additional 22 teams, but an expansion would help several teams from traditional leagues with a single entry. The perpetually underrated US Conference will send three teams to the NCAA Tournament, with North Texas (25-6) and UAB (23-8) joining presumed auto-bid winner Florida Atlantic. Valley regular season champion Bradley also made his way into the 90-team field as an at-large, as did WAC runner-up Sam Houston.

The last two teams to hold the Laz title were Dayton and Wake Forest. The first two teams eliminated were Liberty and Southern Miss. Respond to complaints from Flames and Golden Eagles fans. Whether it’s 69th and 70th or 91st and 92nd, there will always be bubble teams that feel insulted.

There are many obvious flaws in the 90-team grid. This reduces the quality of the NCAA tournament field. This reduces the regular season to competition for seeding in conferences of the strongest forces. In the same conferences, he also mostly gets rid of the drama of a bubble team hosting a conference tournament.

For a deeper dive into this discussion, click here.

Here’s a less obvious problem: it could reduce the amount of unforgettable Cinderella stories that show up at the NCAA Tournament. With a field of 90 teams, UMBC won’t play Virginia, Lehigh won’t play Duke, and St. Peters won’t play Kentucky. Teams that take places from 1 to 38 will go to the 1/8 finals. Then the 39th will play the 90th, the 40th will play the 89th and so on.

Hope you’re looking forward to that big first round matchup between Mississippi State and Farleigh Dickinson this year! Or Utah-Vermont!

One possible way to solve this problem would be to reward the winners of conference tournaments along with the top six teams at large. Then all other At-Large teams will have to face each other in the first round for the right to advance to round 64. Will this format solve all the problems that the expansion to 90 will create? No. Think of it more like lipstick on a pig.

While some members of the NCAA Transformation Committee undoubtedly had the best of intentions in trying to allow more athletes to experience the March Madness, 90 teams seem to be more than it takes to crown a true national champion. Double-digit seedings do make big strides in men’s tournaments, and the Top Four have produced two Final Four teams since 2011, but since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, only three teams seeded outside the top four in the region, won the title. : No. 8 Villanova in 1985, No. 6 Kansas in 1988, and No. 7 Connecticut in 2014.

Expansion is even harder to justify in women’s basketball, where there is less parity at the top of the sport. Only twice has a team seeded outside the top two in its region won the title: No. 3 in North Carolina in 1994 and No. 3 in Tennessee in 1997.

In fact, the best argument for expanding the NCAA men’s and women’s tournaments from 68 to 90 teams would be money.

How much more could the NCAA get from its TV partners if it had an extra round of March Madness? Is this influx of revenue worth further depreciating the regular season and risking depriving March of some of the fun?


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