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Should the NCAA Expand Its Men’s Tourney?

2010 February 10
by Phil Miller

The NCAA is considering expanding its men’s basketball tournament from 65 to 96 teams. According to Joe Walljasper, the last time the tournament expanded was in response to the creation of the Mountain West Conference. When the MWC was created, that essentially created another automatic qualifier to the tourney, simultaneously taking away an at-large bid if the NCAA stood pat.

The NCAA didn’t stand pat. Instead, it created a play-in game whose winner gets the honor of being squished by the top dog in the tourney.

One of the tradeoffs the NCAA needs to consider is the simultaneous increase and decrease in interest this would cause. The expanded tournament would redistribute the bubble, putting some teams on it and taking others off it. Is the net marginal effect on fan interest positive?

In addition, this proposal would lead to a basketball version of grade inflation. While getting an A is great for the individual tudent, it’s not necessarily true if everyone gets A’s (the fallacy of composition). A given grade no-longer reflects the willingness and ability of a student to do quality work. As Syndrome said in The Incredibles, when everyone’s super, no-one is.

Similarly, the more teams that get into playoffs, the less interesting the playoffs become. This also has to be accounted for when thinking about the net marginal effect on overall fan interest.

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