According to various reports, it's beginning to look as if the NCAA men's basketball tournament will in fact expand from 65 teams to 96 teams as a way to increase its revenue stream. A New York Times report on Tuesday indicated that the cost of the broadcast rights to the tournament will explode from $320 million to $700 million annually over the next three years. That type of potential increase in financial earnings has made the expansion all but a formality at this point. But while most coaches are eager for the change, USC's Kevin O'Neill doesn't appear to be a major proponent of a 96-team field. From the Orange County Register.
"I don’t like it," O’Neill said. "It’s going to cheapen the regular season by a tremendous amount. The conference tournaments are pretty much going to become obsolete in terms of their importance."
O’Neill believes every school is, in essence, part of the NCAA Tournament as currently constituted because conference tournament winners automatically qualify. But with 31 additional bids, many of those league titles would lose their meaning.
O’Neill also doesn’t like the idea of wiping out the NIT — "The NIT championship for Dayton this year was a big deal," he said — and doesn’t buy the notion that a bigger field will create more special memories for more student-athletes.
"It’s all about money," O’Neill said.
O'Neill's opposition to a 96-team tournament is a tad bit surprising, as most of the backlash regarding the idea of tournament expansion has been from journalists, college basketball analysts, and everyday fans, not head coaches. In fact, coaches, alongside NCAA officials, have been the strongest proponents of expansion, because it helps to improve job security. The fact of the matter is that earning a birth to the tournament is the safest way to stay employed by a school. Consecutive appearances or Sweet Sixteen runs are the gateway to long-term contracts for head coaches. In turn, more available spots in the Big Dance is a way to work toward better job security for middle-of-the-road coaches.
So the fact that O'Neill is against tournament expansion either means he's confident that his team doesn't need help to crack the field of 65 or that a 96-team field won't do anything to guarantee him long-term stability at USC. From the sound of things, it appears as if the latter may be the case.
After discussing the issue with his fellow coaches at the Final Four in Indianapolis, O’Neill concluded he was in the minority. He said most coaches are in favor of expansion in large part because they believe it will save jobs.
"I think it’s going to be the other way around," O’Neill said. " ‘What do you mean you’re not top 96 in the country? You’re fired!’ "
He certainly has a point in all of this, and as an 'SC fan, I think you have to applaud him for sticking to his beliefs. It's an admirable trait, especially in a profession such as coaching, where everybody is looking after themselves first and foremost. Unfortunately, there aren't others who are in touch with O'Neill's line of thinking.