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March Madness to expand from 65 teams to 'only' 68

Kyle Singler of the Duke Blue Devils posts

Kyle Singler of the Duke Blue Devils posts up against Ronald Nored of the Butler Bulldogs during the 2010 NCAA championship game. (April 5, 2010) Photo Credit: Getty Images

The NCAA men's basketball tournament will grow from 65 to 68 teams, with all 67 games shown on live national TV, pending expected approval Thursday from the Division I board of directors.

The fact that CBS and Turner partnered on a new 14-year, $10.8-billion contract to carry the event was no surprise; their bid had been deemed a favorite to beat out ESPN's.

But it had been widely expected that the field would grow to 96 teams - a notion that has been harshly criticized by fans and the media for months.

Instead, the NCAA found a way to wring enough revenue from a 68-team event spread across four TV outlets to meet its financial needs.

The decision not to expand to 96 also preserved the NIT, whose future had appeared bleak.

"It's a positive development for us to be able to continue with the NIT and the rich tradition it brings to college basketball,'' NCAA senior vice president Greg Shaheen said.

The NCAA has not determined precisely how the 68-team format will be structured. But regardless of when games are played in the early rounds, they will be on CBS or one of three widely distributed cable channels - TBS, TNT and truTV (formerly Court TV).

That means an end to the long tradition of complaining about CBS' decisions on when to switch in and out of games in progress.

Beginning next year, CBS and Turner will split the regional semifinals.

CBS will continue to show the regional finals and Final Four through 2015, after which it will split the regional finals with Turner every year and Turner will get the Final Four in even-numbered years.

ESPN, which shows hundreds of regular-season games, eventually reached its limit in the bidding; it might be marshaling resources to make a strong run at the 2014 and '16 Olympics.

NCAA interim president Jim Isch insisted on a conference call that plans for a 96-team field never were in place, and rejected the notion that the association backed off in the face of criticism.

CBS, which has carried the NCAAs since 1982, had a contract through 2013, but with $2.1 billion still to pay, it was pleased to have the NCAA opt out of the deal and allow it to partner with Turner.

The 2016 Final Four won't be the first major sports championship to move to cable. The BCS Championship Game will be on ESPN in January 2011.

The contract includes TV, Internet and wireless rights, so live streaming of games is expected to remain in some form.

The NCAA could have risked trying to get a huge rights deal after 2013, around the time several pro sports contracts expire.

Reaching an agreement now allowed it to lock in revenues that provide the vast majority of funding for all NCAA operations.

The Division I men's basketball committee passed a recommendation for an expansion to 68 to the board Wednesday, and it likely will be approved officially next week.

New York Sports