Soft Watch At The Moment of First Explosion" over my desk, but ruining an artistic masterpiece in such a foul manner is pretty much the only way I can accurately describe what the NCAA is apparently planning to do. Reports came out yesterday that Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney believes an expansion of the NCAA Tournament to 96 teams is "probable".
The issue will not be determined until the NCAA board gathers to vote on the matter on April 29th, but the thought of altering what, to this point, has been possibly the most intrinsically perfect of American sporting events is wholly unpalatable to just about everyone who watches college basketball, with the exception of coaches and college presidents. And why would they bother expanding the tournament field from 65 to 96 teams? Well, you don't have to be an Ivy Leaguer to figure that one out.
This summer the NCAA has the option to opt out and renegotiate its television contract with CBS, and with 30 more games potentially on the docket, that contract becomes a whole lot more valuable. For the coaches perspective, being the skip for a lower-level college team that can now make the dance allows you to burnish your laurels a little more than an NIT berth would, and as for the big program coaches, soft first-round matchups lend the prestige of saying you've made it to the second or third round more often than you used to.
Of course, if these seem like particularly material or vain reasons to expand what is, theoretically, a purely scholastic event about the love of sport, that's because, well, it is. Now I'm not naive. I know this event stopped being about pure competition long ago. Now fortunately, the NCAA is unlikely to pull an Avery Brundage and continue to insist that Division I college sports are all about the love of the game when they clearly aren't. It acknowledges that the bottom line rules here.
And while money is clearly the governing factor, and the likely reason that this will almost certainly happen, it's not ridiculous to express frustration over what will change the greatest weekend in sports. And I'm not the only one who's doing it. The first two rounds of March Madness are a phenomenal show, and every sports fan is so well versed that they can reel off the automatic seed pairings -- 12 vs. 5, 11 vs. 6, 14 vs. 3 -- out of second nature. Two proposals I've read have either the first round expanding to four brackets of 24 teams each or, even worse, the top 32 teams in the country getting a bye to the second round.
The top thirty-two teams!
I'm not the only person to think the idea of paying the athletes has merit. But if you think the NCAA would ever pool money to be distributed among the athletes of its revenue sports, you probably also think expanding this tournament is a good idea in the first place.
What's more, expanding the bracket to 96 teams would cheapen the accomplishment of dancing for smaller schools or throw in bigger programs on off years. I don't need to see this year's UNC freshman-palooza in the tournament, and as an alum of a school that has never made the NCAA Tournament -- and breaks my heart in its failure to reach it year after year -- seeing Northwestern finally break the field because the tourney became more inclusive would feel less like an achievement and more like condescension. I don't want my school's first berth to be gift-wrapped. I want the Wildcats to earn it.
Remarkably enough, Northwestern coach Bill Carmody, who could become a hero in Evanston if the Cats finally get an invite to the ball, is also against expansion.
As for the tournament still going on, Saturday's Final Four could be wholly uninteresting if Duke makes its way to a championship, which Vegas has them pegged to do, but I'm still holding out hope that West Virginia can save us from the most reviled school in college basketball winning its first title in nine years.
In other news, another team that went nine years without a championship has officially lost a major part of its history, as the demolition of the original Yankee Stadium is nearly complete. The last parts of the upper deck were torn down yesterday as you can see in pictures here and in the video below.
Color me sentimental, particularly considering I'm a Mets fan, but even I think its odd to see those walls come down. And the one show of the hollowed out old Yankee Stadium next to the new one is just a bizarre site to behold. It still makes me feel strange to know that in just six months, Shea Stadium, Yankee Stadium (I) and Giants Stadium will all be figments of my imagination rather than physical structures (On a side note, the NFL announced yesterday that the new Meadowlands Stadium will be opened by a preseason Giants-Jets game on August 16th. The Jets will be home.).
On a final note, one that is happier than the rest of this post, I'm pleased to announce that Team No. 32 is officially on the docket, and that lucky team is going to be the Atlanta Braves. I've never been to Atlanta and not gone outside of the airport, so I think a stop at the Coca-Cola factory might be necessary, but the big occasion will of course be seeing the Mets visit their division rivals on May 17th and 18th at Turner Field. I don't have tickets yet, but I'm not anticipating that being a problem and my flight is booked.
My college roommate Sam, an Atlanta native, is likely to be among my companions to the ballpark, and upon hearing that I was a Mets fan, his father thanked me for paying for Tom Glavine's retirement. Sam repeated this mantra throughout college.
I wholly expect to hear it again. And I'm awfully excited about it.