Expanding the NCAA Tournanemt to 72 Teams

With this year’s expansion of the NCAA Tournament to 68 teams came the "first four" that was not really that well received in a lot of circles. While for some, the games were exciting (the first game actually went into overtime), for most, it was a yawn with one game being a play-in between co-#16 seeds leading into a second game involving teams playing for the #11 or #12 seed.

What many don’t realize that there was eventually going to be an expansion to 66 teams anyway once the winner of the Great West conference (one hardly anyone outside of the die-hards and/or alumni of the schools in it knows to even exist) became eligible for an automatic berth. Given this, and once that happens either an at-large berth will have to be taken away or the field will have to expand to 69 teams, I propose a new format that would expand the field to 72 teams with the number of regions doubling from four to eight (nine teams in each region), though the sub-regionals would also remain at eight as the "play in" or "first four" would be eliminated. The eight regions would be:

Northeast (Eastern Time Zone)
Mid-Atlantic (Eastern Time Zone)
Southeast (Eastern and/or Central Time Zone)
North Central (Central and/or Mountain Time Zone)
South Central (Central and/or Mountain Time Zone)
Southwest (Mountain Time Zone or Arizona)
Northwest (Pacific Time Zone)
West (Pacific Time Zone or Hawaii)

My proposal for the new format’s first and second rounds would be this:

The top and bottom seeds (#1 and #9) the next two lowest seeds (#7 and #8) would play in the first round, with such games played Thursday and Friday evening (no east coast daytime games in the new format). The winner of the game between seeds 7-8 would play the #2 seed in the second round, which would be renamed the Regional Quarterfinals, while the winner of the game between 1-9 would bypass what would now be the Regional Quarterfinals and go directly to the Regional Semifinals the following week.

The Regional Quarterfinal games would take place on Saturday and Sunday in two sessions, one a single game session and the other a doubleheader (in most cases, the TV schedule, which would be determined after the pairings are announced would determine whether the single or double seesion at a venue goes first). Usually, the single game session would be between the #4 and #5 seeds, while the doubleheader would have the #2 seed playing the winner of the 7-8 game and the other between the #3 and #6 seeds.

The Regional Semifinals would take place as they are now, except there would now be twice as many games that Thursday-Sunday period with eight regionals instead of four. Teams that would have afternoon regional finals on Saturday and Sunday would have their semifinals in the late afternoon-early evening (east coast time) on Thursday and Friday, while those who would have evening regional finals on Saturday and Sunday would play their semifinals in the evening and late night (east coast/west coast prime time) on Thursday and Friday. There would be four regional finals each day on Saturday and Sunday, two in the afternoon and two in prime time. This schedule would also include at least one and possibly two regional semifinals on Thursday and Friday tipping after midnight on the east coast (obviously played in the Mountain and/or Pacific Time Zone).

The eight Regional Semifinal winners would then advance to a new National Quarterfinal round that would take place the Wednesday after the regional finals. These would generally be at permanent sites, and as I would attempt to do it to make getting to the National Quarterfinals (new Elite Eight) a massive deal by staging them if possible at two of the most famous arenas in sports: Madison Square Garden in New York and The Staples Center in Los Angeles. Obviously, MSG would be in the middle of the NIT Final Four at that point, but I think staging one half of a new National Quarterfinal round in addition to the NIT (which the NCAA also runs) would make it a big deal with such falling in between the NIT Semis and Championship in particular. The overall level of the #1 seeds and which regions those seeds would play their Regional Semis/Finals at would determine which venue the Regional Semifinal winners would go, as well as from there also determine which winners of such games play in the Final Four.

The winners of the four National Quarterfinal games would then advance to the Final Four.

That to me is the best way to for now expand to 72 teams while also later allowing for further expansion to 80, 88 or 96 teams if it is deemed necessary.

Note: This blog is also posted on the Too Smart To Fail Message Board, where discussion can also be done.

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