Coaches overwhelmingly support not changing the format of the NCAA Tournament

Earlier this summer, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey found an effective way to rile up the entire college basketball fanbase when he postulated to Sports Illustrated that the NCAA should “take a fresh look” at the NCAA Tournament – and behind closed doors suggested the NCAA should take a look at a format without automatic bids.

It’s no secret why Sankey – and likely other people in power at Power-5 schools or conferences – would want this. More spots in the NCAA Tournament is the equivalent of printing money, and removing the AQ would eliminate teams from the Big Sky, Sun Belt, WAC, and every other small conference from making the tournament at all outside of very extraordinary circumstances.

Instead, the bottom seeds of the NCAA Tournament would be underperforming Power-6 programs, likely with .500 or worse overall records, instead of potential miracle squads like Saint Peter’s, Florida Gulf Coast, George Mason and, way back in 1999, an unknown school in Spokane called Gonzaga.

Fortunately, this idea has been roundly rejected by not just fans and analysts, but coaches as well. In the latest installment of the Candid Coaches series at CBS, Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander interviewed over 100 college basketball coaches from various programs, all anonymously, and asked them this question:

“Should the NCAA Tournament stay as is or change to a 68-team, all at-large format?”

97% of respondents indicated they believe the tournament should stay as is, while 3% supported all at-larges. It is the most decisive vote in this survey’s 10-year history, and the responses show a very strong aversion toward making any changes.

Every quote is worth reading (and a link to the article is above) but here are a few standouts:

“Don’t mess with the NCAA Tournament. Championship week and the Cinderella teams are what has made the sport as popular as it is. The at-large process is already skewed heavily toward the big boys, so it’s virtually impossible for mids to get at-large bids.”

“Absolutely remain the same. While I am not one that believes the NCAA Tournament would collapse if it went Power Six only, I do think there would be a material drop in the excitement surrounding the tournament — viewers, brackets filled out, general interest. This in turn will have an impact on viewership and therefore advertising dollars.  All of this will make the impact of the tournament less of an annual event nationally.”  

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And if it’s amazing, definitely don’t fix it. REMAIN AS IS.”

It’s hard to imagine change actually occurring with such a strong sentiment against it, but money talks (loudly) and this is definitely a topic worth keeping a close eye on in the coming years.

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