Joe Lunardi's NCAA Tournament expansion proposal is way off base

Joey Brackets wants to expand March Madness to 80 teams in a misguided attempt to save college basketball

If Joe Lunardi gets his way, March will become even more mad
If Joe Lunardi gets his way, March will become even more mad / Katharine Lotze/GettyImages
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I'm a big fan of Joe Lunardi. The Bracketologist has been with ESPN for well over two decades, and in that time he's helped not only enhance fans' excitement for college basketball, but educate the viewing public on what to look for in evaluating every team's chances of making the NCAA Tournament.

Joey Brackets has a pretty impeccable record of predicting what the Big Dance field will look like every year, but he's not always right. I can forgive only getting 66 out of 68 teams correct. That's still really good! What I can't abide, though, is his latest take that advocates for expanding the NCAA Tournament.

In an article published to ESPN+ ($) yesterday, Lunardi went over a litany of reasons why it's time to once again expand the field, but with all due respect, none of them are very compelling. He begins with a straw man argument that invokes the looming specter of a season-ending tournament that features only power conference members. That's never going to happen.

He later goes on to say that if the field was expanded this year, it would likely result in eight extra major conference participants, and four mid-major additions. So which one is it? Expanding the field to stave off a complete takeover by the power conferences, only to give those conferences two-thirds of the new bids created, doesn't seem all that different to me.

Lunardi references the fact that in 1985 when the tournament expanded to 64 teams, there were a total of 282 Division I schools competing. Today, there are 362, so shouldn't there be more teams that make the championship? This logic just doesn't track. Nearly all of the 80 teams that have moved up to D-I in the past 39 years are classified as mid-majors today, and many of them have either stayed near the bottom of their mid-major leagues, or taken time to build their program up. How does this merit the inclusion of more teams at the top, especially when most of the teams that would benefit were already in Division I to begin with?

The NCAA Tournament doesn't need to keep expanding.

To support my position, I turn to college basketball insider Jon Rothstein, a true patriot who has always been staunchly opposed to expanding the field.

Listen, Lunardi is understandably spooked about the trickle-down effects that college football-driven realignment and NIL is having, and will continue to have, on college basketball. Football is the revenue sport, as we've heard millions of times, but that's no reason to bastardize one sporting event that is as close to perfect as it gets (and like Lunardi said in his article, we've already gritted our teeth and accepted the First Four, even though there was significant pushback when it was first proposed).

The expansion of certain conferences at the expense of others is a zero-sum game. Access to the tournament will not be "an acute issue," as Lunardi puts it. UCLA, USC, Oregon, and Washington being in the Big Ten makes it more likely that the Big Ten will get more teams in the field, but there also won't be a Pac-12 to account for when counting up the invites. The math still works out the same way.

Lunardi further contradicts himself when he relays a story of a talk he once had with legendary coach Bobby Knight in which he pointed out that expanding the field to 96 or 128 teams would be "a colossally bad idea." He then goes on to suggest a compromise of 80 teams. I'm sorry, but why should there be a compromise when on one side you have something that is perfect the way it is, and on the other side you have a terrible, greed-driven idea? There's no need to meet in the middle with bad faith negotiators.

Who wants the field expanded? People that stand to financially profit off of said expansion, and coaches who risk being fired if they bubble out. I'm sorry, but don't go 19-13 with a sub .500 conference record if you want to keep your job. Making an expanded tournament field only to get beaten in the first round isn't any better than missing the tournament in its current form, and any discerning athletic director will see that.

We live in a world where everything has to keep expanding and making more and more money, otherwise it's deemed a failure. Finished movies get scrapped before they ever see the light of day. Video game developers are laid off if the new AAA game doesn't make $200 million. Netflix needs a billion subscribers or shows are going to be canceled. Publications like Sports Illustrated are smoking husks of what they used to be thanks to corporate interference and greed. Cal, Stanford, and SMU are going to play in the FREAKING ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE.

You get the idea. Would it be OK to have one thing that is allowed to remain fundamentally good and unspoiled? I feel like that's not asking for much. Sorry Joey Brackets, but your idea isn't making the Dance.

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