Oct 17, 2022 - Sports

Momentum grows for expanding March Madness

Illustration of a basketball hoop full of basketballs

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Expansion is already on the horizon for the College Football Playoff and March Madness could soon follow suit.

State of play: The idea of expanding the men's and women's NCAA basketball tournaments has been percolating for months, and it took center stage at last week's ACC basketball media day.

What they're saying: ACC commissioner Jim Phillips says it's time to look at expansion to create "more access, more opportunity," ESPN reported.

  • Some agree: "I've been a proponent of expanding the NCAA tournament for a long time," Miami coach Jim Larrañaga told ESPN. "I advocated this 25 years ago," echoed Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim.
  • Some disagree: "I don't want to lose what we have," said Virginia coach Tony Bennett. Even Phillips agreed, calling March Madness "the crown jewel ... so you have to be respectful of not messing it up."

By the numbers: Over 85% of the NCAA's annual revenue comes from March Madness, per Sportico. More games would mean more money.

The big picture: Expansion is in vogue across sports right now. The NFL, MLB and NBA have all increased their slates in recent years and the CFP will expand by 2026 at the latest.

  • But March Madness feels different. Going from 65 to 68 teams currently is one thing, but increasing to 96 — a probable next step, given it was also floated in 2010 — could lead to a diluted product.
  • When the CFP expands to 12 teams, it still means fewer than 10% of programs make the field. March Madness already includes 19% of teams; an expansion to 96 would up that to 27%.

The bottom line: An expanded March Madness field feels likely at some point in the future and could be imminent. It certainly won't kill the tournament, but it might make it less fun.

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