68 Team Expansion Affects March Madness Brackets

My inbox had a special delivery from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee today. I opened the email with growing anticipation because I expected some breaking news regarding the NCAA Tournament expansion to 68 teams.

Instead, Dan Guerrero, Chair of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee and athletics director at UCLA, had this to say:

“Late this week, the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee had initial discussions on various structural options for the 68-team field, which will begin with the 2011 Championship.

This was the first in-person opportunity the committee had to discuss its charge from the Division I Board of Directors to determine a fair and appropriate format for the expansion.

Several options for determining which teams would appear in the four opening-round games were discussed, although no action was taken. The committee will seek input from the membership before our next scheduled meeting in late June. At that time, we will determine the eight teams/seeds that are to appear in the four opening-round games, along with the dates and sites of those games.”

To sum up Guerrero, he essentially said, “We’re sending you this pointless email so you can learn nothing new and waste five minutes of your life reading it.”

I don’t know about the rest of America, but my first and foremost concern regarding the 68-team format is my March Madness bracket.

In the former 65-team format, the play-in game between the two worst teams in the tournament occurred two days after Selection Sunday on Tuesday. Our brackets had to be in before the first game on Thursday because the play-in game was highly irrelevant.

Now that we have four play-in games, does that mean that all brackets must be in by Tuesday? The answer is highly dependable on exactly who plays in the initial four games, something we clearly won’t find out until late June, according to Guerrero.

There is absolutely no way that small schools will allow the play-in games to consist of eight mid-major teams. That would be extremely unfair and too skewed toward big conferences.

The alternative would be to have the final eight bubble teams play in the initial games. That would be a fair setup because those teams barely made the tournament field so they should be forced to prove their worth with play-in games.

Assuming that the committee agrees with the latter option, that would mean that the four play-in games would be highly relevant to brackets.

The impact on us devoted bracket fillers would be two less days of intense research and crunching stats. We would essentially have to start filling out brackets as soon as they’re released on Selection Sunday. I’ll be the first to say that two days just isn’t enough time to analyze all of the information out there.

I run a pool every year and every year, there are people who procrastinate and wait until the last minute (literally) to submit their brackets. If we shorten the deadline to two days, how many people would we lose in our pools?

In addition, a minor concern is how we would score the opening round. Would it be scored the same way as the first round? Would the opening round be scored as the first round was previously and the first round scored as the second round was previously?

This is a very confusing and distressful time for those dedicated college basketball fans who wait an entire year for March to roll around. And Mr. Guerrero had to kindly waste his time and ours in order to tell us that nothing would be settled until late June.

Thank you, Mr. Guerrero, for the clarification.

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