SEC commissioner Greg Sankey considers a March Madness expansion
August 13, 2022
Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey said that he's planning “a fresh look” for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament on Thursday. Arguably the most influential person in college athletics, Sankey hinted that he might consider the expansion of the current 68-team field.
Although the SEC boss admitted that he's “not ready to make headlines there yet”, he was willing to discuss a bigger March Madness that invites more teams, including small-conference champions. Sankey gave the 2022 College World Series baseball championship as an example. The tournament was won by the last team into the 64-team field, SEC member Mississippi.
“If the last team in can win the national championship, and they’re in the 30s or 40s from an RPI or [NCAA] NET standpoint, is our current approach supporting national championship competition?” he asks. “I think there’s health in that conversation. That doesn’t exclude people. It goes to: How do we include people in these annual national celebrations that lead to a national champion?”
Although the conversation was limited to the men’s tournament, Pat Forde from Sports Illustrated believes that there is a wider scope behind it.
"Given the recent NCAA emphasis on an equal tournament experience for both the men and women, it is conceivable the discussion of an expanded bracket would also apply to the women’s tournament as well," he wrote.
Members have been voicing concerns about being excluded from March Madness. Earlier this summer, Sankey reportedly revealed to members of the Division I Council earlier this summer about the NCAA tournament's possible changes in the future.
Although Sankey said that the tournament could don a different look next time, some mid-major and low-major programs voiced their suspicion that any automatic bid would not go to the underdogs, but to richer teams and powerful multi-bid leagues instead.
“March Madness will become much more controlled by a handful of schools,” said Florida Gulf Coast president Michael Martin to a Fort Myers TV station recently. “And automatic qualifiers that we now get from being in the A-Sun will disappear.”
However, there's no indication made by Sankey that the tourney would potentially be taking away automatic bids. Automatic bids are one of the most popular formulas in collegiate sports. Taking it out would potentially bring a huge backlash. Sankey, instead, puts his focus on the quality of the teams, especially those who just barely make the field or are being totally left out.
“I thought [SEC member] Texas A&M should have been in the field in basketball [last season],” Sankey said. “Look at what UCLA did as an 11-seed [in 2021], what Virginia Commonwealth did as an 11-seed [in 2011], what Syracuse did as an 11-seed [in 2018]. Those are three teams that played [in the First Four] in Dayton and went to the Final Four eventually. It should broaden our thinking.”
Forde assumed that one potential method of expansion would be to have a quartet of First Fours. Each First Four would be done in each region, increasing the total number of bids from 68 to 80.
"But quadrupling the moving parts also would increase the logistical hurdles for the NCAA," he wrote. "Getting eight teams to Dayton in short order after Selection Sunday, then dispersing the winners to various sites around the country with a fair chance in their first-round games, is not easy."
“Just take a fresh look at all of it,” said Sankey, urging the tourney members to explore several options for a larger Big Dance. “As we think collectively, everyone goes to the corner and says, ‘I have to hang on to what’s mine.’ But how do we contribute and build it better together?”