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April 3, 2010 - Weighing benefits of 96 teams

The New York Times published an article with several viewpoints about the costs and benefits relating to expansion of the NCAA men's basketball tournament from 65 to 96 teams. The NCAA is currently reviewing whether or not to opt-out of the current three year, $6 billion CBS television contract and renegotiate the contract seeking more money in exchange for a larger field of teams. Expanding the tournament would likely eliminate the National Invitational Tournament (NIT), which features 32 teams that were not invited to participate in the NCAA tournament.

Many believe additional money will help NCAA member institutions in the current time of financial challenges. However, others believe additional revenue will only lead to more spending on college sports, and that the money may only make the "rich get richer" and will not be distributed to help those institutions with less access to large sources of revenue.

“If past is prologue, these new funds will get fed into growing the size of athletic budgets, paying coaches’ salaries, and frankly, the rich get richer,” said William E. Kirwan, the chancellor of Maryland’s university system and a co-chairman of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, a watchdog group. “This doesn’t alleviate the problem, it will exacerbate the problem.”

Some coaches and college administrators favor the idea if a new deal secures more money for their colleges. “We’re very mindful that a good portion of our membership has come to rely on that financial stability, so understanding how that can best be preserved is important,” said Greg Shaheen, the senior vice president for basketball and business strategies at the NCAA.

As a guiding principle, “the general goal is not to leave anyone worse off than they were,” Shaheen said.

The N.C.A.A. distributes money to the 31 conferences with teams in the tournament in the form of units. The units are calculated by taking the total pool in the basketball fund — $167.1 million this year — and dividing by the number of teams in the tournament plus the number of games played (except for the championship game) during the past six years. This year, there are 752 units worth $222,206 each.

According to the Times, the 11 major conferences that now receive 76 percent of the NCAA’s distributions could end up grabbing an even larger share of the pool. For instance, by adding the number of teams invited to the NCAA and NIT tournaments, 13 of the 16 schools in the Big East would have received invitations to a 96-team NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Athletic directors from the other 20 conferences argue that they could also use the extra money. In an expanded tournament, they may stand a better chance of winning more games, especially if the top 32 teams receive a first-round bye, leaving lower-seeded colleges to play one another in the first round. Even then, the NCAA could reward the top 32 teams with extra units, offsetting the share of the pool that the other conferences may receive.