Is it possible that the NCAA is secretly brilliant? Is it within the realm of possibility that the tourney committee has been playing us from Day One? Could some PR guru have come up with a way to turn water into wine?
Someone get Dan Brown on the phone … I’m starting to think the NCAA may just be a front for the Illuminati.
Think about it. Let’s say you are Greg Shaheen, the senior VP of basketball and business strategies for the NCAA. Let’s say you’re under pressure from the 18 university presidents and chancellors on the board to sell a small expansion of the NCAA tournament.
The ultimate goal is to add seven-to-10 teams. You need to create an opening round of games that people may actually watch (so you can sell it), and you think four or five compelling games among bubble teams will get it done.
You know there’s going to be opposition to the idea of expansion. No one likes change. Not to mention the fact that the tournament is the best sporting event on the planet, so the idea will inevitably be universally panned.
But you want to do it anyway. How do you do it without alienating your fan base? How do you do it without causing mass hysteria?
I have an idea.
What if you float to the public the preposterous idea of adding 32 teams … what if you go so far as to leak to a popular sports blog that a 96-team tourney is a “done deal”? People would be flabbergasted. People would be outraged. People would be scared.
Every columnist under the sun (including yours truly) would write about what an abomination a 96-team bracket would be. We’d all write about those greedy, maniacal university presidents and league commissioners who care more about lining their pockets than looking after the interests of the kids and the sports they oversee.
After all, how can the NCAA refuse to allow a football playoff on the grounds that it would take away from its students’ dedication to education and then brazenly add another round to the basketball tournament without even addressing the issue?
Oh, the hypocrisy.
But then … in that environment of hysteria, what if the NCAA were to say, “You know what, we’ve listened to our fans and we agree college basketball is not ready for a 96-team field. Instead, we’re going to add just seven teams. Make it a 72-team bracket, with sixteen teams playing for eight spots in the opening round.”
We would all be relieved, right? We would all take a deep breath and say to ourselves, “at least it’s not 96.” We might even convince ourselves that adding seven more play-in games actually enhances the tournament, because it effectively balances the field. Against that backdrop, the NCAA may even be lauded for not succumbing to the green monster of expansion … even though the tournament went from 65 to 72 teams … exactly as it wanted all along.
The NCAA gets its expanded tournament, a sellable opening round and a boatload of cash … without as much as a whisper of protest.
See what you can do when you don’t hire Ari Fleischer?
It’s just a theory. The NCAA very well could be planning on imploding the best event in sports and going to 96 teams despite the overwhelming majority of its fan base dead-set against the idea. They may even announce that plan this week. But if the committee decides to only add a handful of teams, and if the NCAA is universally applauded for its restraint …
… that would be kinda brilliant.
Email me at email@example.com; follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/leerussakoff.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.