Non BCS programs have always felt they’ve gotten the bum steer nationally. It’s true, mid-major programs rarely get the benefit of the doubt. The tide has changed a bit over the last half-decade, thanks to George Mason breaking through to the Final Four and Butler’s championship game appearance last year.
Some believe the NCAA took another step toward making things fair by adding three more teams to the tournament field. Let’s be clear. This was also a money grab. Adding three more to the part obviously increases the exposure.
But will those three extra spots go to non-BCS programs? It would be foolish on the part of the selection committee if they didn’t. Logic would dictate that the mid-majors would get these three extra bids since the NCAA is adding three play-in games.
Typically, conferences like the MEAC, SWAC, Atlantic Sun, Southland and Summit league are relegated to play-in status. The tournament commitee could opt to give second bids to some of the mid to lower level mid-major conferences like the America East, the MAAC, the Ivy League or even the top independent school. That's assuming they have a solid record.
Or the selection commitee could give in to the massive pressure that will be put on from the BCS conferences and not help out the mid-majors. It would be a shame, because in a single-game elimination tourney, anything can happen. And if the NCAA is about giving everyone an opportunity, this is their chance to prove that.
Not including the Atlantic 10, which I don’t consider a mid-major conference, seven mid-major teams received at-large bids. It’s been up and down over the years with just two non BCS programs receiving at-large bids in 2009, but the mid-majors have been gaining a lot of traction. Hopefully Butler's appearance in the championship game was enough to sway the commitee into thinking everyone deserves an opportunity.
Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell is in favor of the extra at-large bids, but is skeptical if it means the mid-majors will reap the benefits.
“I'm all for more at-large bids because it gives more teams the chance to play on the biggest stage of college basketball,” Pikiell told Newsday. “Whether or not it helps mid-major programs gain more bids, I don't know. That's up to the [NCAA selection] committee to decide. But it would definitely be great if it happened.”
Not everyone agrees with Pikiell’s assessment. Several coaches believe the NCAA should’ve expanded to 96 teams.
“I myself would have loved to see it go to 96,” Indiana’s Tom Crean told ESPN.com. “Anything that adds more pageantry is great, but it's such an outstanding event that so many people look forward to, this isn't a bad answer.”
Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim shared a similar view point with ESPN.
“As a coach I'd like to see more people get in, but 68 is a good step and the easiest way to have the least amount of turmoil,” Boeheim said. “There's really no way to do a little bit bigger expansion. You can't expand by eight, 10. There's no way to figure that out. This is the easiest way, and hopefully down the road there will be a bigger expansion.”
Both CBS and TNT, which signed a $10.8 billion with the NCAA that runs through the 2024 season, have said increasing the field to 96 teams doesn’t guarantee more revenue for either network. It seems likely the field will be set at 68 teams for the foreseeable future. That said, if the number of Division I programs continues to increase, we could see a change midway through this new deal.