While University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball coach John Shulman was prepping for an NCAA tournament first-round date against Connecticut last March, his wife and two older sons were filling out brackets.
Projecting the 65-team field has become an annual challenge at the Shulman house, but penciling in the winners could become a lot more tiring. Sensing the potential to attain more revenue from its three-week event known as "March Madness," the NCAA is debating whether to expand its tournament to as many as 96 teams.
"You would have to take two weeks of vacation just to fill one of those brackets out," Shulman said.
SportsBusiness Journal reported this month that the NCAA may opt out of its 11-year, $6 billion contract with CBS after the upcoming Final Four to expand and ultimately lure a new 14-year media deal. CBS and Turner Sports have discussed a joint bid for future tournament rights, according to the report, which added that ESPN and Fox also may bid.
The NCAA has until Aug. 31 to decide whether to keep its current deal with CBS, make a new deal with CBS or another network or create a deal that would split rights to the tournament. A smaller proposal also being discussed involves the addition of three more play-in games, which would make it a 68-team field.
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl believes supersizing the tournament would be a positive for the sport.
"When you look at (football) teams at 6-5 going to bowls, you can't compare that to teams that have won 20-something games and maybe won their conference's regular season and don't get to make the NCAA tournament because they don't win their postseason tournament," Pearl said. "We should not use a three-week window and then televise the Masters when it has to be televised as an excuse. We play games seven days a week, and there ought to be a way for us to get another round in to include more teams in what is the greatest event in all of sports."
Auburn's Jeff Lebo, who preceded Shulman at UTC, also favors expanding the field. Lebo played in the NCAA tournament all four seasons as a North Carolina guard during the 1980s but has yet to enjoy the extravaganza as a head coach.
His Tigers went 24-12 last season but did not receive an at-large bid. They went instead to the NIT.
"That experience for players is just awesome, and to have more players get to experience the NCAA tournament I think would be a positive," Lebo said.
NCAA considering adding to Madness
There ought to be a way for us to get another round in to include more teams in what is the greatest event in all of sports.
-- Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl
The people who are complaining are from the (big conferences). Those people who come in ninth in their league and are on the bubble and don't get in are mad.
-- UTC coach John Shulman
Georgia first-year coach Mark Fox believes the size of the field should not be altered, citing that reaching NCAA play should be something special. Among the more outspoken against the idea is longtime ESPN analyst Dick Vitale.
"It's absurd to expand when you've got a beautiful product," Vitale recently told the Orlando Sentinel. "It's exciting. It's captivated everybody in America. To expand and water it down and to bring in teams mediocre all year long -- why not open it to everybody and make it meaningless?"
The field went from 53 to 64 participants in 1985 and remained at 64 until a play-in game was added in 2001.
Shulman is against expanding but would favor the move if it assured bids to conference champions of mid-major and smaller leagues who lost in their conference tournaments. The NIT currently guarantees such teams a spot in its 32-team field.
"If you're going to do that, then I may raise my hand," Shulman said. "Even though we've won the (Southern Conference) tournament twice in the last five years, I firmly believe that an 18-game regular season should be very meaningful. As it is right now, all we do is play the regular season for the tournament.
"The peewees aren't complaining about it. The mids aren't complaining about it. The people who are complaining are from the Big East, the SEC and the ACC. Those people who come in ninth in their league and are on the bubble and don't get in are mad. We're not on the bubble. We're either in or out."
MY, YOU'VE GROWN
The number of teams in the NCAA tournament since its inception in 1939:
Expanding to 96 teams would assure 27.7 percent of the 347 Division I basketball programs of making the NCAA tournament, which would eclipse the 26.7 percent of major league baseball clubs (8 of 30) that qualify for the playoffs. More than half (16 of 30) of NBA and NHL teams qualify for the
playoffs, and more than half (68 of 120) of major college football programs get invited to bowl games.
In the NFL, 12 of the 32 teams qualify (37.5 percent).
"I don't know what kind of impact it would have from an interest level," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I think any time there is change in anything in life -- and there is always going to be some level of change -- it is going to be handled with some kind of reluctance. People don't like to see change, and there will probably a lot of scrutiny, but after time passes by, people stop talking about that stuff.
"I think in a lot of ways it's going to come down to dollars and cents. That's what a lot of these decisions come down to."