What a 96-team NCAA Tournament might look like. ... If they do this, let all champions in

SelectionSunday

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Whether we like it or not, March Madness is going to expand, reportedly by 4 to 8 teams starting in 2025-26. My guess is that simply will be the steppingstone to a 96-team field by the year 2030, if not sooner.

I am not in favor of tournament expansion, HOWEVER, if the greedy folks in the Big Ten, SEC, ACC, and Big XII offices are hellbent on messing with the best postseason in all of sports, here are my thoughts on how we go about building a 96-team field. Let's let all champions in to ensure both the regular season and conference tournaments (Championship Week is the bomb) still mean something, and thus have a "flex" number of at-large bids every season.

Automatic Bids = 31 to 62
There will be 31 conferences in 2024-25 (so long, Pac 12). Let's give every regular season/#1 conference tournament seed & conference tourney champion an automatic bid. So there'd be anywhere from 31 automatic bids if every conference had a "double-champion", to 62 if there were multiple champions in every conference.

At-Large Bids = 34 to 65
Using this past season (32 conferences) as an example, there would have been 43 at-large bids with 53 automatic bids. ... 21 multiple-champion conferences (= 42) + 11 conferences with a "double winner". ... America East (Vermont), Big East (UConn), Coastal (College of Charleston), Horizon (Oakland), Patriot (Colgate), SoCon (Samford), Southland (McNeese), SWAC (Grambling State), Summit (South Dakota State), WCC (Saint Mary's), and WAC (Grand Canyon)

53 auto bids + 43 at-large bids = 96.

Using the 2024-25 NCAA Tournament sites, here's what a "Field of 96" could look like. Obviously, there are no sites listed for first-round games (seeds 33-96 on the "S' curve). In addition to BYU being placed at Thursday/Saturday sites, I have only one hard & fast rule. ... teams can't face a conference opponent until the Round of 32. I only had to tweak the seeds of BYU (from 6 to 7) and Florida (from 7 to 6) to accomplish the former.

The main thing that stands out? Those 1-16 & 2-15 matchups in the Round of 64 would be competitive much more often.

FIRST/SECOND ROUND (Round of 96 to Round of 64) -- First Round sites TBD
SOUTH REGIONAL (Atlanta)
Wichita

#1 Houston vs. #16 McNeese/#17 Appalachian Statte winner
#8 FAU vs. #9 Michigan State/#24 Wagner winner
Seattle
#4 Kansas vs. #13 Providence/#20 South Dakota State winner
#5 Saint Mary's vs. #12 Saint John's/#21 Western Kentucky winner
Cleveland
#2 Marquette vs. #15 Iowa/#18 College of Charleston winner
#7 Dayton vs. #10 Colorado State/#23 Morehead State
Wichita
#3 Creighton vs. #14 Virginia Tech/#19 Vermont winner
#6 South Carolina vs. #11 Virginia/#22 Longwood winner

WEST REGIONAL (San Francisco)
Raleigh

#1 North Carolina vs. #16 Grand Canyon/#17 South Florida winner
#8 Mississippi State vs. #9 Northwestern/#24 Central Connecticut winner
Raleigh
#4 Auburn vs. #13 Villanova/#20 Colgate winner
#5 Wisconsin vs. #12 Pitt/#21 Quinnipiac winner
Denver
#2 Arizona vs. #15 Duquesne/#18 UAB winner
#7 Washington State vs. #10 Colorado/#23 Norfolk State winner
Cleveland
#3 Kentucky vs. #14 Wake Forest/#19 High Point winner
#6 Florida vs. #11 Indiana State/#22 Long Beach State winner

EAST REGIONAL (Newark)
Providence

#1 UConn vs. #16 Princeton/#17 Richmond winner
#8 Utah State vs. #9 TCU/#24 Grambling State winner
Seattle
#4 Duke vs. #13 Utah/#20 Toledo winner
#5 Gonzaga vs. #12 Seton Hall/#21 Eastern Washington winner
Lexington
#2 Tennessee vs. #15 Kansas State/#18 Yale winner
#7 BYU vs. #10 Nevada/#23 Stetson winner
Lexington
#3 Illinois vs. #14 Cincinnati/#19 Morehead State winner
#6 Clemson vs. #11 Drake/#22 Saint Peter's winner

MIDWEST REGIONAL (Indianapolis)
Milwaukee

#1 Purdue vs. #16 James Madison/#17 UC-Irvine winner
#8 Nebraska vs. #9 Texas A&M/#24 Howard winner
Providence
#4 Alabama vs. #13 Ohio State/#20 Oakland winner
#5 San Diego State vs. #13 Oklahoma/#21 Sam Houston winner
Milwaukee
#2 Iowa State vs. #15 NC State/#21 Samford winner
#7 Texas vs. #10 Boise State/#23 Eastern Kentucky winner
Denver
#3 Baylor vs. #14 Oregon/#19 Akron winner
#6 Texas Tech vs. #11 New Mexico/#22 Little Rock winner

Last 4 In: Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, Iowa, Kansas State
First 4 Out: Butler, VCU, Memphis, Washington
Next 4 Out: San Francisco, Bradley, SMU, UCF

Power 5 Tournament Bids: 45 (Big XII 13, Big Ten 9, ACC 8, SEC 8, Big East 7)
Non-Power 5 Tournament Bids: 51

As a point of reference, this past season the Power 6 conferences and non-Power 6 conferences each had 34 bids.
 


Just the thought of changing something soooooo good pissed me off.
If things were reversed...I wonder what the reactions would be.

Like if the Gophers always made the tournament and won a few games...and then it switched to a system where we can only win 2 games in 27 years...I wonder if we'd be excited about that.
 

> The main thing that stands out? Those 1-16 & 2-15 matchups in the Round of 64 would be competitive much more often.

I think you nailed it. Those top seeds will still win a high rate, but not at the 'whatever-and-2' clip #1 seeds have been at against the auto-bid teams. I wonder if they would consider some type of double-bye in an expanded format.

The other thing is while I like the sentiment of rewarding regular season champions, I'd rather those bids go to the non-power conference teams that are at-lage worthy. It seems they are getting squeezed in non-conference opportunities against the power teams, so would rather they get a bid than both Pine Bluff and Alcorn State (for example).
 






For sure the added first round games.

Can't see a whole lot people wanting to travel to those games other than friends & family.
But TV ratings would be higher for sure. Teams like the Gophers would actually have meaningful late-season games for a change.

A 128-team tournament would be great. Making the Final-32 would be a fun & reasonable goal actually. Seriously.
 









But TV ratings would be higher for sure.
No they won't. The hard core fans will still watch. Most casual fans don't watch regular season games and won't engage for a 96 or 128 team monstrosity that takes 6 weeks go play. They might get one big TV contract out of it before it collapses on them. Just foolishness.
 


No they won't. The hard core fans will still watch. Most casual fans don't watch regular season games and won't engage for a 96 or 128 team monstrosity that takes 6 weeks go play. They might get one big TV contract out of it before it collapses on them. Just foolishness.
If it ruins the feasibility of participating in a relatively simple Bracket Pool, the viewer interest in the entire event will largely be eroded in my opinion.

It may spark some hardcore gambles to watch more, but not enough to make up for those only watching to follow their bracket.

I actually think the current TV/streaming partners are resistant to enlarging the field. I don't think they want to make it a 4 weekend event and more games Noon - 9pm on a Tuesday/Wednesday just are not going to present a bidding war. I think going beyond 72 teams is going to be a hard sell to CBS-Turner.

Maybe another streamer would pony up something.
 
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No they won't. The hard core fans will still watch. Most casual fans don't watch regular season games and won't engage for a 96 or 128 team monstrosity that takes 6 weeks go play. They might get one big TV contract out of it before it collapses on them. Just foolishness.
This.
 

If it ruins the feasibility of participating in a relatively simple Bracket Pool, the viewer interest in the entire event will largely be eroded in my opinion.
I think this is the best synopsis. Brackets used to be extremely popular and were what drove the interest in the first few days of the tourny. Now I don't even know anyone who bothers to even fill one out, nevertheless pay attention to any of the early games.

I think the Tuesday night play-in started ruining things, as now you had to guess who was going to even be in the last 4 spots before you could fill out a 64 team bracket.

Sometimes you gotta realize when you've hit the sweet spot and leave shit alone.
 

If it ruins the feasibility of participating in a relatively simple Bracket Pool, the viewer interest in the entire event will largely be eroded in my opinion.

It may spark some hardcore gambles to watch more, but not enough to make up for those only watching to follow their bracket.

I actually think the current TV/streaming partners are resistant to enlarging the field. I don't think they want to make it a 4 weekend event and more games Noon - 9pm on a Tuesday/Wednesday just are not going to present a bidding war. I think going beyond going beyond 72 teams is going to be a hard sell to CBS-Turner.

Maybe another streamer would pony up something.
Most sports leagues know (or should know) they have about one more big contract before they take a hit. The NFL is probably exempted from this. But by the time we get to 2030, many of the current bidders for rights will be gone or consolidated. This is the exact wrong time to screw with the NCAA tournament. They should leave it alone and lock into another 10 year deal while they still can.

I agree, the TV execs know making this bigger will ruin casual fan interest. It seems driven by Power 5 AD hubris and desperate coaches who want to make it easier to keep their jobs.
 


I think this is the best synopsis. Brackets used to be extremely popular and were what drove the interest in the first few days of the tourny. Now I don't even know anyone who bothers to even fill one out, nevertheless pay attention to any of the early games.

I think the Tuesday night play-in started ruining things, as now you had to guess who was going to even be in the last 4 spots before you could fill out a 64 team bracket.

Sometimes you gotta realize when you've hit the sweet spot and leave shit alone.
At 68, most people can just ignore the play-in games and fill it in as if it's still 64, but it probably did cause some drop off.. Even going to 72 makes this worse. Going to 96 ruins it completely.
 


No they won't. The hard core fans will still watch. Most casual fans don't watch regular season games and won't engage for a 96 or 128 team monstrosity that takes 6 weeks go play. They might get one big TV contract out of it before it collapses on them. Just foolishness.
Why would TV ratings be higher for a meaningless Gopher regular-season game when we're already eliminated?
 

With what college basketball has become...the RIGHT thing to do is expand the tournament to 128 teams.

Because how you play during the regular-season shouldn't be held against you. Teams like the Gophers have to start from scratch every year now. We should have a chance to improve during the season and try to finally win by the end of the season.
 



96 makes a lot of sense.
Automatic bye if you are a double champ.
Regular season 2 gets the second bid for the conference if there is a double champ.

Really probably puts in every non major who is deserving (if you are a mid or low major who doesn’t win regular season or tourney or at large you really don’t deserve it).


I hate 96 if it isn’t two bids per conference.
 
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So Tuesday/Wednesday would look equal to what Thursday/Friday already does as far as number of games being played, correct? 16 games each day.

For someone like myself that takes Thursday and Friday off each year, I'm not going to be able to take the two extra days off more than likely.
 

So Tuesday/Wednesday would look equal to what Thursday/Friday already does as far as number of games being played, correct? 16 games each day.

For someone like myself that takes Thursday and Friday off each year, I'm not going to be able to take the two extra days off more than likely.
More likely you would do 96/64 Thursday/Sunday, 32/16 the following Thursday/Sunday and then either just have Elite 8/Final Four the next two week-ends or go to an Elite 8 at the finals site like D-II does.
 
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A double bye set up would be better in terms of keeping the better teams in longer but it won't happen because it would result in less games played overall.
 




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