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NCAA turning a negative into something positivePosted Wednesday, July 14, 2010, at 12:25 PM
When the NCAA announced plans to expand the men's basketball field to 68 teams I, like many, was quick to cast aspersions on the plan and consider it to be one of the many ways the NCAA already institutes to make a great deal of money in a short time.
For instance, when a person enters the lottery to purchase Final Four tickets they must send a check to the NCAA to pay for the anticipated ducats.
The NCAA in turn takes that money, puts it into an interest-bearing account until the following year. Then after you don't win tickets in the lottery the NCAA sends you a check for the money you sent in originally, keeping the interest earned for its own benefit.
At least this time around the money-making efforts will also include some benefits for the college basketball fan in general.
The field was officially expanded and the preliminary format regarding how those eight additional teams will play was released.
It will include the last four at-large teams and the last four teams ranked from 64 to 68.
Those two pieces of information are a revelation unto itself since the selection committee is usually tight-lipped about which teams were the last to be included and which teams they considered the lowest ranked.
In the past the "opening round game" or as the rest of the free world called it a play-in game, is basically abolished and replaced with games that could be of some significance.
When you consider that the last four teams in the field will likely not be the four worst teams, it could make for some entertaining games.
Teams such as Illinois, Florida, UTEP, Virginia Tech, Minnesota and Arizona State or Mississippi State, which were bubble teams this past year, would have been included in those "First Four" games as the NCAA has tagged the quad of contests that will now mark the first round.
And their places in the now-familiar 64 team field would fall where they normally would, say in a No. 10 or No. 11 seed, thus adding to the interest level -- letting four No. 10 seeds battle it out to earn their berth for example.
Now I realize that the bubble teams will only be involved in two of those games, but the other two games could be interesting as well.
While the winners of those two games will likely become the preverbal punching bag for a top seeded Duke or Purdue, the games themselves could be a breeding ground for new life for small schools.
I'm not saying they will, but it could become a showcase for the underdogs to show their stuff and give the big boys on the block something to worry about.
Perhaps the best thing about those other two games is the fact they will now possibly be viewed as just a little more legitimate than in the previous scenarios.
The television exposure alone will likely boost their importance. How?
Well say Illinois and Arizona State are set to face-off in one of the First Four games along with Minnesota and UTEP.
And on the other side we have a Winthrop against Princeton and Alabama A&M against Campbell. Using each of those games to lead into the other two would be an ideal marketing strategy for the NCAA, one that would mean a winning strategy for all involved.
Then take into consideration that all four games will be on cable's truTV (formerly CourtTV, now there's an ironic coincidence if I ever saw one -- playing four college hoops games on a network called CourtTV, get it) the fans will certainly have a good chance to watch the games and be able to make their own minds up.
While it remains to be seen how well this will work from a fans enjoyment standpoint, I for one am certain that I will give it a sporting chance before I decide it's a bad idea.
Rick is a sports writer with the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached at (812) 847-4487 ext. 20 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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