Around the country, from the stands to the locker rooms to the executive offices of television networks, the possibility that the tournament will grow, most likely to 96 teams, has become one of this March’s most heated topics.
As the N.C.A.A. prepares to unveil its 65-team field on what has become known as Selection Sunday, the possibility of radically altering the format — perhaps as soon as next year — is being seriously considered.
Although the idea of changing the beloved bracket has been panned by fans and criticized by pundits, the promise of more television money and greater access to the tournament has made change conceivable.
“The opportunity to decide what’s going to happen with our revenue is a big deal,” said Greg Shaheen, the senior vice president for basketball and business strategies with the N.C.A.A.. “It’s what a lot of institutions rely on for their athletic programs. That’s a centerpiece to why all this happens. It’s easy to say you don’t want change. But simply put, it’s what’s appropriate to operate in our best interest.”
“It takes away from the special nature of it,” said Steve Donahue, who has coached Cornell to the N.C.A.A. tournament for three straight years. “It’s supposed to be an incredible award for a great, great season. If you expand it, it’s not that. Everyone thinks more is better. It’s not.”
Davidson Coach Bob McKillop went a step further.
“Isn’t this whole thing a window into society?” he said. “We’ve diminished so many other things. We’ve diminished test scores. We’ve diminished admission policies. We diminish so much for reasons that are not accentuating excellence and performance. It’s almost too inclusive.”