NABC Pushes for Tournament Expansion

By Staff

Coaching Management, 14.6, August 2006,

Amazing April? Manic May? It may not just be March Madness much longer. Discussion of an expansion of the NCAA Division I Men’s Tournament is gaining momentum in the coaching community.

Syracuse University Head Coach Jim Boeheim has publicly announced he’d like to see the tournament expanded by four to six teams. And Oliver Purnell, Clemson University Head Coach and President of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC), says he’d like to see the tournament double in size.

“Expanding the tournament is something I’ve thought about over the years,” Purnell says. “Since assuming the position of president at the NABC, I’ve spoken to a lot of coaches. There is a sentiment to expand it, and my job is to make the coaches’ voices heard.”

At conference meetings this summer, the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee listened to both Boeheim and the NABC’s arguments for expansion. Gary Walters, Director of Athletics at Princeton University and chair of the committee, believes the topic is ready for serious discussion.

“Given that it’s been about 15 years since the field has been expanded, and during that time the number of Division I schools has grown, the committee needs to review its posture regarding expanding the size of the tournament,” Walters says. “The committee is open-minded about the issue.”

Purnell would like to see the tournament double in size, but says he would be pleased with just a few more teams added to the mix. Noting that there is already a full day set aside for the current play-in game between the 64th and 65th seeds, he says it would be easy to add several more play-in games on that same day.

“If you look at college football, teams that play in a bowl game are often defined as having had a successful season,” Purnell says. “Now look at basketball—there isn’t as high of a percentage of teams that get to play in the tournament. And the teams that didn’t get in are often defined as having had an unsuccessful season. If we can expand the tournament to include some of the schools on the bubble, it would be healthy for the game of college basketball.”

The problem, says Boeheim, is deciding exactly how the expansion would occur. “Play-in games are certainly an option, but I’m kind of against them,” he says. “It’s almost like those teams aren’t really in the tournament. I think those games should be considered the first round and played the weekend before. But then ending the season a week early could become a problem.

“There are a lot of people who would be in favor of expansion if it were easier to accomplish,” Boeheim continues. “I think it’s more likely we’ll see a small expansion before a drastic one. But it is being talked about and we’ll get somewhere with it in the not-too-distant future.”

Purnell plans to spend his one-year term pushing for expansion. But although the NCAA Committee will look into the possibility, Walters expresses a note of caution: “Discussion doesn’t necessarily equal change.”