Syracuse Basketball: Big Dance expansion ‘would be profoundly stupid,’ Jay Bilas says

Top ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas says potentially expanding the NCAA Tournament "would be profoundly stupid."
Top ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas says potentially expanding the NCAA Tournament "would be profoundly stupid." / Katharine Lotze/GettyImages

As Syracuse basketball winds down its 2023-24 regular season and eyes the ACC Tournament next month in Washington, D.C., Orange fans are hoping that the ‘Cuse can do enough in the coming weeks to merit consideration for this spring’s NCAA Tournament following a two-year absence from the annual March Madness.

Speaking of the Big Dance, there’s been plenty of chatter lately regarding a possible expansion of the NCAA Tournament from its current field of 68 participants.

Not too long ago, NCAA President Charlie Baker said in an interview with ESPN that he thinks there’s “an opportunity to expand the NCAA men’s basketball tournament – if it’s done with care,” Dan Murphy writes in his article.

Top ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas, who never shies away from criticizing the NCAA, says a potential expansion of March Madness is not a good idea. Well, he characterizes it another way.

Could Syracuse basketball and its peers have a larger Big Dance in the future?

Last Saturday, on ESPN’s College GameDay, Bilas sounded off on the possibility of increasing the NCAA Tournament’s future field, per a story from On3 writer Alex Weber.

Here’s one candid quote from Bilas: “Never underestimate the NCAA’s capacity to do something stupid. And if they did this, it would be profoundly stupid.”

He continued, “When anyone says more teams need access to the tournament – every team has the same access to the tournament now. All you have to do is win your conference’s automatic bid, which is against your peers with a group of teams that you have chosen to be among, and every team is in the tournament already. All you have to do is win your conference tournament. You’re already in the tournament.”

I wrote a column last November where I discussed the notion of growing March Madness. To me, it’s a money grab, and it’s something that the leaders of the biggest conferences may want to see more of their members included.

I’d prefer to leave the field at 68. However, as I said a few months back, if the NCAA Tournament does expand, such a move cannot impact schools from the mid-major conferences that currently receive automatic bids for winning their respective leagues’ post-season tournaments.

To that end, Murphy wrote in his piece, “Baker said he does not support the idea of decreasing opportunities for schools from smaller leagues to make the tournament by eliminating any of the automatic bids those leagues get for the teams that win their conference championships.”

So that’s good to hear. But if the Big Dance grew to, say, 96 participants, would any of those additional invites be available to mid-major programs, or just sub-par squads from the power conferences?

Now, it’s reasonable to assume that a 96-team NCAA Tournament would provide more opportunities for Syracuse basketball to hear its name called on Selection Sunday.

As much as I want the Orange to be in the field every year, I would want a larger field to provide chances for mid-major programs that win a ton of regular-season games, but perhaps get upset in their conference tournaments, to potentially get in, rather than just a bunch of so-so power-conference groups that, of course, could bring in enticing television ratings if they’re big national brands but didn’t even finish above .500 in their league’s standings.

In Murphy’s story, Baker says that the NCAA’s basketball committee could have an update on any potential changes to March Madness “between now and the end of this year’s tournament in early April.”

Bilas, though, says no thanks. “The one thing everybody’s forgetting is that this is not an access tournament, it’s a national championship event,” he said. “You should have to do something hard to get in. And if you think it’s too hard, then Division II is wide open.”

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