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Joe Lunardi Makes a Case to Expand the NCAA Basketball Tournament to 80 Teams

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional Practice

College football’s everlasting chase for piles of cash has turned the sport into something nearly unrecognizable from what it was at the turn of the century.

The geographical and deep-seated rivalries, the innocence of amateurism, and the unique and anything-but-perfect way of crowning a champion that separated the college game from its professional counterpart are nothing more than a memory now.

Oklahoma and Oklahoma State won’t play Bedlam anymore. High school recruits are being openly paid millions of dollars to sign with a school, only to leave two seasons later for a bigger NIL deal. The four-team playoff, which worked well despite its flaws, is now expanded to 12 teams and could be on its way to 14 or 16 teams soon.

 

Unfortunately, the changes that college football is making aren’t only affecting the spaces between the endzones.

As ESPN’s Joe Lunardi pointed out in a recent article (ESPN+), a new-look championship model, or even separate basketball championships, is a possibility, with capitalism being the root of all decisions in this day and age.

However, Lunardi’s got a proposition that could keep that from happening — expanding the NCAA basketball tournament from 68 teams to 80 teams.

Lunardi’s suggestion is based on the fact that the current 68-team field makes up just 18.8% of Division I membership, which is well below what the NCAA transformation committee’s recommendation of 25% of teams have access to championships in sports with 200 or more member institutions.

 

Furthermore, Lunardi points out the access issues that will rise with the 2024 wave of conference realignment. With the Big Ten and ACC having 18 teams and the SEC and Big 12 having 16 teams, Mid-Major programs will be less likely to lock up bids, even if they might deserve it more than the 10th place team in a conference as difficult the Big 12.

“My recommended compromise, at least until the next round of major media negotiations in 2032, is to expand the NCAA field to 80 teams,” Lunardi says. “We know the format of the current First Four works. So, why no have additional play-in games so 12 terams can be added to the mix? Even if eight of these new slots end up going to what I’ve often called ‘middling’ majors, that still leaves four new spots for truly deserving mid-majors. Everybody wins.”

Later in the article, Lunardi goes on to explain how expanding to 80 teams wouldn’t necessarily water down the product, as the cutoff line between 68 and 80 isn’t all that wide of a gap.

 

“At an 80-team cutoff, we’d be looking at Kansas State and Pitt as the last teams in,” Lunardi says. “Both have top 75 NET rankings and have a combined dozen wins against Quad 1 and 2. Conveniently, the 12 ‘additional’ teams from this year’s board would comprise eight power conferences along with four mid-majors. Things won’t always work out this way, but you get the idea.”

What do you think? Should the NCAA Tournament be expanded to 80 teams? Or, would you rather see separate tournaments for mid-majors and power conferences?

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