Syracuse Basketball: Expanding Big Dance is a money grab, leave it alone

Syracuse basketball (Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel)
Syracuse basketball (Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel) /

Like every other Orange hoops fanatic out there, I want to see Syracuse basketball land an invite to the NCAA Tournament every season.

Trust me, the past two terms, when the ‘Cuse struggled and didn’t make the Big Dance, it was not fun.

And there are likely some folks out there who say an expansion of March Madness could give Syracuse basketball a greater chance to hear its name called on Selection Sunday, and I don’t doubt it.

For me, though, I’d prefer that the current NCAA Tournament format remain the same, although an expansion of the present 68-team field is probably going to occur at some point in the future.

If Syracuse basketball plays to its potential, it won’t need an expansion of the Big Dance to secure an invite.

In recent days, an article came out from ESPN writer Myron Medcalf that discussed the possibility of the NCAA Tournament growing in the future.

In that piece, Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball, said that an expansion of the NCAA Tournament is “not necessarily” inevitable, while at the same time, he said that March Madness has to stay “contemporary.”

Medcalf wrote in his story that the “Division I men’s basketball committee is currently weighing recommendations from the Division I transformation committee that could expand the NCAA tournament to up to 90 teams.”

I’ll say this. If the Big Dance grows by that large of a number, that better result in more mid-major programs getting bids, rather than average teams from the power conferences, including the Orange’s league, the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Personally, I believe that a field of up to 90 squads will dilute the NCAA Tournament. Isn’t 68 big enough?

Growing the Big Dance to up to 90 teams, to me, is simply a money grab, and I do acknowledge that the collegiate athletics landscape is rapidly evolving these days, with the explosion of the transfer portal along with name, image and likeness opportunities and ongoing conference realignment.

In simple terms, having more teams in the NCAA Tournament means more games, and more games, I imagine, will provide the NCAA and other beneficiaries with more advertising revenue and larger television contracts.

But will the mid-major programs that win 25 or 30 regular-season games, then get upset in their post-season conference tournaments, be among those who are invited to an expanded March Madness? Maybe. Maybe not. I’m skeptical.

The Final Four is awesome. I want Syracuse basketball to regularly compete for a spot in the national semifinals and beyond.

What is the best, most exciting part of the Big Dance, though, is those round of 64 and round of 32 affairs, where Cinderella stories are formed. That’s the essence of the NCAA Tournament, to me.

If dozens of additional berths are doled out on Selection Sunday, will we still see those Cinderella darlings spring exhilarating upsets during the first weekend of the tourney? Maybe. I assume so.

To reiterate, if a Big Dance expansion results in more mid-majors getting in, along with some power-league groups, so be it. But let’s be honest. A so-so squad from the ACC, generally speaking, will likely bring a larger TV audience than most mid-majors would, and strong television ratings are pivotal.

"Gavitt said in the ESPN story, “You have to make sure the tournament is special as it’s always been and yet, you have to consider the changes and the things that are going on in the business — conference realignment — that may have some impact and need to be considered. The forward-looking way, rather than looking backwards.”"

A few weeks ago, word came out regarding changes to another post-season tournament, the NIT. Media reports stated that those changes were in response to a new tourney in the works to be played in Las Vegas, with Fox Sports behind this event that could commence operations as early as 2025.

"As ESPN’s Jeff Borzello reported, “the NIT board of managers announced that regular-season champions who do not win their conference tournaments and are not selected for the NCAA tournament will not receive an automatic bid to the NIT. Instead, the NIT will guarantee bids for two teams from each of the six power conferences as well as two spots for the top two teams in the NET rankings that were not selected for the NCAA tournament.”"

Amid the changes to the NIT coming out, I read numerous reports and social media commentary suggesting that mid-major conference commissioners and coaches were not in favor of such changes, arguing that it would benefit the power leagues, not them.

A line of thinking here is that these NIT changes would ultimately find their way to similar changes to the NCAA Tournament, with more power-conference squads and fewer mid-major programs competing.

Gavitt, in Borzello’s piece, said that those concerns are not “justified.” No disrespect to Gavitt, but I’m not buying that at all.

We’ll see how this all shakes out. My gut tells me that mid-majors aren’t likely to be happy if and when the Big Dance expands.

I understand their frustration. I agree with them. The NCAA Tournament, at present, is glorious. Let’s leave it alone.

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