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Is Bigger Better? Coaches Divided on March Madness Expansion

  • Expanding the men’s NCAA tournament has been a big talking point this week.
  • Coaches are giving their opinions ahead of their first-round games.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The men’s NCAA tournament is finally underway, but the future of March Madness is the topic that has dominated discussion among many coaches, of bluebloods and underdogs alike, as teams gather in cities across the country for the opening round of games. Should the tournament expand? That’s the question that’s been top of mind this week after various reports of ideas to grow the field and public comments were made on the matter by conference commissioners like the SEC’s Greg Sankey and the Big 12’s Brett Yormark.

Kentucky coach John Calipari (above), who won it all in 2012, hopes the 68-team bracket stays in place. “Keep it where it is,” he said ahead of the No. 3 Wildcats’ matchup against No. 14 Oakland on Thursday evening. “Don’t mess with something that’s great.” Fellow SEC coach Rick Barnes agrees. “I don’t think you can ask a team to win more than six games to win a national championship,” he said while previewing No. 2 Tennessee’s first-round matchup with No. 15 Saint Peter’s on Thursday night. “It’s really demanding.”

However, Barnes did admit adding more play-in games—which would likely mean more at-large bids for major conferences—could be worth exploring. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo also feels that some changes should at least be considered. “Everybody likes the upsets in the first weekend, but I’m not sure moving on that’s what’s best for the game,” Izzo said before the No. 9 Spartans beat No. 8 Mississippi State in the tournament’s opening game Thursday afternoon. “I think it’s got to be looked at seriously.”

As for the Little Guys …

Tenth-seeded Colorado State, one of six Mountain West teams to earn a March Madness berth, faces No. 7 Texas on Thursday night after defeating Virginia in the First Four on Tuesday, and Rams coach Niko Medved said eventual expansion simply feels like a formality at this point. “Everybody can read the tea leaves as far as what’s going on,” said Medved, who wants any expansion to not be done too hastily. “I also hope that they continue to find a way to allow access because I think that’s really what makes it special.”

That preservation of access for all Division I schools is a top priority for many others, too. No. 14 Akron coach John Groce, ahead of an eventual loss to No. 3 Creighton on Thursday afternoon, was asked whether mid-major schools like his in the MAC are anticipating the opportunity for additional tournament bids from theoretical expansion. “Obviously we hope that for sure,” he said. 

Oakland coach Greg Kampe said he didn’t believe tournament expansion would make it easier for his team—the sole bid from the Horizon League as an automatic qualifier—to go dancing. “The only reason I would be for expansion to the 96, or whatever they’re talking [about], is to keep us in it,” he said. “If that’s the only way we’re going to stay in it, then I’m for it. What I’m saying is don’t keep us out.”

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