March Madness. Only Madder – or is it correct to say more mad? Of course, whether it happens at all hinges on whether the recommendations of one of NCAA’s committees are followed.
Last week, the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee released a report that, among other things, recommends allowing 25 percent of teams in sports sponsored by at least 200 schools to compete in annual championship events. That could take the basketball tournaments from their current cap of 68 teams up to 90 teams each – if suggestions are followed.
The question, of course, is whether they will be.
The report, available for download here, makes a number of other recommendations (more on those in a minute) but for now, it is essential to ask how this will affect tournaments in future years. After all, many are locked in for through the 2025-2026 academic year. Does it mean more facilities will be needed? More hotel rooms? More fan fests? More travel?
Well – don’t go building extra fields and securing more arenas just yet. As AP News notes, change isn’t exactly sitting on the horizon, gleefully rubbing its hands together and looking for more teams.
First, each sport that is applicable will study the potential for expansion, meaning that if the committee gets its way, this won’t be something in the hands of the committee – or the NCAA’s board, for that matter.
“Each sport will have the opportunity to take a look, comprehensively, at what the impact of expanded brackets might be and whether or not it’s something they should pursue for their particular championship,” Ohio University athletic director Julie Cromer, who is the co-chairperson of the committee, told the AP.
In other words, even if the report gains NCAA approval, each applicable sport (meaning those participated in by at least 200 schools) would have the autonomy to decide what happens next.
What would be applicable to all Division I institutions would be the standards and expectations for support and enhancement of the college athlete experience.
Other changes recommended by the committee include things that would be largely invisible to the public (but experienced by athletes) and those that would be internal to NCAA only. ESPN did a great job of paraphrasing them as follows:
- Require all Division I schools to provide medical coverage for athletically related injuries for a minimum of two years following graduation or the completion of participation. The recommendation says that a national coverage model might be needed to help some programs cover costs.
- Require schools to offer athletes who were on full scholarship the ability to return to school within 10 years of leaving to complete their degree.
- Require schools to attest that they provide career counseling and life skills programming to athletes including, at minimum, the following modules: mental health; strength and conditioning; nutrition; name, image and likeness (NIL); financial literacy; transfer requirements; career preparation; diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging; and campus sexual violence prevention.
- Create a new D-I governance structure that will include increased participation by athletes at the campus, conference and national levels.
- Further involving athletes to be part of conference and school-level governance, which includes creating an athlete advisory committee executive team for each league.
- Schools must have on staff a licensed mental health professional exclusively dedicated to serving athletes to meeting the mental health services membership expectation.
- Schools shall complete a comprehensive review of their health and safety support services at least once every four years and provide written confirmation of completion to their conference office.
- Schools should have medical personnel with training in acute concussion and other injuries present at all NCAA practices and competitions in the following contact/collision sports: acrobatics and tumbling; Alpine skiing; baseball; basketball; beach volleyball; diving; equestrian; field hockey; football; gymnastics; ice hockey; lacrosse; pole vault; rugby; soccer; softball; volleyball; water polo; wrestling.
- Schools must employ at least one full-time staff member, with appropriate training, whose primary focus is on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.
- The committee recommends a review of the FBS attendance requirements to “establish more effective distinctions between the football subdivision.”
- Sports-sponsorship minimums will remain the same. D-I members must sponsor at least 16 sports.
- The committee recommends a review of scholarship limitations “once the impact of changes in other areas of the transformation committee’s review become known.”
- Eliminate the NCAA Presidential Forum, which assists the NCAA D-I board of directors in “accomplishing its strategic mission in the Division I governance structure and helps ensure that the NCAA core value involving presidential leadership of intercollegiate athletics at the campus, conference and national level is achieved,” according to the NCAA website. The forum constitutes one president or chancellor from each of the 32 D-I conferences.
- Change the composition of the D-I Board of Directors, details of which will be finalized by April, according to the report.
- The committee recommends that D-I championship tournaments seed at least 50% of the bracket.
- Each sport that holds an NCAA championship should have its own oversight committee for decision-making, as football and men’s and women’s basketball currently have.
- A full review of NCAA championship travel policies “to identify ways to elevate the travel experience for participants,” including: (1) increase per diem rates equal to D-I basketball preliminary rounds; (2) standardize the process and fee structure for upgrading to charter air travel; (3) guaranteeing charter air travel for teams traveling more than 2,000 miles and no direct flight options.
- The committee also recommends a review of (1) the revenue distribution model; (2) financial aid and roster size; (3) countable coaches and the definition of countable coaches; (4) the role of sports agents; and (5) the playing and practice seasons.
The NCAA Division I Board of Directors will review the report at the 2023 NCAA convention in San Antonio this week.
Even if the committee’s recommendations are accepted in full (and there is no guarantee they will), recommendations have staggered implementation time frames. For example, the when it comes to the possibility of expanding championship events, an initial review by committees would happen by June 2023, with final recommendations to take place by January 2024 for implementation (if approved, and that is a big if) in the ’24–25 championship, the report says.
There is also the potential for some recommendations (but not all) to be accepted, or for some matters to be given further study.
And it could be that the NCAA balks at some of the recommendations; an example might be the push to require institutions to offer athletes who were on full scholarship the ability to return to school within 10 years of leaving to complete their degree.
But the pundits are already at it, making their predictions. CBS Sports columnist Matt Norlander, for example, makes no secret that he thinks the recommendations to grow the tournament, at least, are doomed:
“In addition to myriad logistical alterations that would have to be accounted for, there is a humongous TV contract to consider. CBS and Warner Bros. Discovery Sports share men's March Madness rights through 2032.
Moving forward, remember that whatever change is made for the men's tournament will also be made for the women's. If you expand the men's field to 72, the same will happen with the women, particularly in the wake of the NCAA's gender equity review after the PR disaster the NCAA brought upon itself in 2021 regarding inequalities in women's basketball.”
That would be the infamous weight room debacle, for those who need a review course.
And, Norlander adds, while the concept of putting on a larger tournament sounds good since it could mean more opportunities for more schools, it would not necessarily draw better teams and might, in fact, result in marginal play that would not generate much interest.
Plus, he points out, nobody on the committee has ever been involved in putting on the men’s basketball tournament, and as a result, “They don't understand most of what goes into making the Big Dance happen successfully each year,” he notes, “the hundreds of levers that need to get pulled, the immense logistical nature of doing it right.”
The number of days that would have to be added and venues found, even for play-ins and opening rounds, would create a nightmare for cities that had already contracted to host.
While everyone hearing the news has fixated on the potential ramifications of the report on the men’s basketball tournament, it is imperative to realize the number of teams per tournament is only one small piece of the puzzle.
SDM will continue to follow this developing issue.