Column: How I would change the NCAA Tournament

Jay Sorgi's blog

Often, sports fans like to get into their fantasy land and think of how they could change a sport for the better.

One sport that has had complaint after complaint in recent years is NCAA Divison 1 basketball, concerning the size, format and how teams qualify for NCAA tournaments.

Over recent years, the NCAA has inched forward with expanding the field of 64 to 65, and now, 68.

Many fans don't like such a inch forward in tournament size because it artificially expands the field with opening round games that lead to first round games, which are just monikers for second round games that have 60 teams earning a bye.

Some say go back to 64, while many - including coaches who have jobs to protect where NCAA tournament bids can help their resume - say go to 96.

Other fans complain that the best 68 teams don't make it because many regular season champions are omitted due to the conference tournament champions' automatic qualification, making the regular season meaningless.

Hearing these complaints, I've put on my "what I would do if I ran the sports world" hat and come up with a system that some may consider controversial, but will:

1) Increase the importance of the regular season

2) Increase the importance of the conference tournament

3) Give the round of 64 in the NCAA tournament more games that are competitive, with a greater chance at the upsets fans love to see in that round.

The biggest components:

80 teams make it, including:

1) All 31 conference regular season champions (every conference would have to have established tiebreaker formats)

2) All 30 conference tournament champions

3) Anywhere between 19 and 49 at-large teams (based on how many regular season champions win conference tournaments)

Seeds 13-20 play in 1st round regional games on  the 1st Tuesday and Wednesday of the tournament (not in Dayton, OH, like this year, but at regular 1st/2nd round sites).

Seeds 1-12 get a bye to 2nd round regional games on the 1st Thursday and Friday.

Seeds 1-4 play winners of games involving 13-20 seeds.

Teams that win "the double" (both the regular season and conference tournament) - earn a 12 seed at worst, and would receive the best NCAA seeding of any team in their conference.

What are the advantages to this system?

1) A more meaningful regular season.

It gives teams a chance to clinch an NCAA bid based on their regular season performance, not just three, four or five games in a week.

2) More meaningful conference tournaments.

It creates incentive for teams who have already won their regular season to win their conference tournament - first-round byes for non-power conference teams, and the opportunity to gain a leg up on power conference teams' rivals in an advantageous setup for their NCAA tournament run.

It also means that the highly flexible number of at-large slots available (which could go as low as 19) mean a lot more teams on the bubble entering "championship week," and a lot more urgency for non-conference champions to win conference tournaments - so those become even more competitive.

3) Better competition when the NCAA Tournament reaches 64 teams.

In most cases, the games involving seeds 13-20 would mean games matching up non-power conference teams.  That means that the cream of the mid-major crop would then play in the round of 64, bringing about better matchups and more possible first-round upsets.

No, it's not perfect. Yes, it expands the field. But it doesn't water down that field. It boosts it with more worthy teams compared to the worst of the 68 that get in now.

Sports debaters, have at it. Have some fun. Give us your thoughts on our post below.

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