After Tuesday night’s Duke win over Gardner-Webb, head coach Mike Krzyzewski was asked in a press conference what he thought about the recent discussion to expand the NCAA Tournament to 96 teams. It’s an idea that suddenly is the most polarizing question in college basketball because of the possibility that the NCAA will opt out of its television deal with CBS after this March’s Tournament. That would pave the way for ESPN to swoop in with the acquisition, and a 96-team tournament would bring in more revenue — and earn the support of more coaches — than a mere 65-team tournament.
As coaches and journalists begin to weigh in on the move — with some vehemently for it and others against it just as passionately — Krzyzewski’s input was bound to be valuable. Up until Tuesday, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, one of Krzyzewski’s best friends in the coaching ranks, had been the most influential coach to voice his opinion. That changed with comments from Coach K, who added that he “had put a lot of thought” into it:
“The NCAA could opt out of its TV contract at the end of this season. If they do, or if they don’t, it’s probably time to take a look at everything. The NCAA owns two properties — the NCAA Tournament and the NIT. What I propose, is that you combine the two properties and come up with a field of 96. You would have 64 teams play. Thirty-two teams get byes, and then it would be the same tournament, but with 96 teams.
“I don’t think we put enough value on the regular season. By expanding to that — and not having the NIT — you reward everybody who wins the regular season. So it puts value on the regular season. I think it would upgrade everything. You still have your conference tournaments, and if you win that, you’re in. If the Patriot League has two teams, so be it — there’s two teams from the Patriot League in the Tournament. I think, if we’re going to do anything, that’s what I’d do. I wouldn’t marginalize the NCAA Tournament. Combine it, reward the regular season. That’s what I would do.”
Let’s remember, though, that this represents a pretty dramatic change of heart for Krzyzewski. Just two months ago, he told ESPN.com’s Andy Katz:
“I don’t think they should expand. As long as we have the end-of-season conference tournaments, then, to me, that’s where the NCAA Tournament starts.
“If we expand it, you get rid of the end-of-season tournaments, and I’d rather have the end-of-season tournaments. It’s a celebration of each conference. I don’t think we need to expand at all. To keep expanding it would dilute what we already have, and what we have is a great product right now.”
What caused the sudden reversal from Krzyzewski?
“You’re adding one game, really, but you’re adding 32 teams and you’re eliminating a tournament that has lost prestige, and value and money,” he said. “And you’re rewarding regular-season champs….You just get more out of it. I wouldn’t be in favor of any other type of change that I’ve heard of — like, 128 or everybody. It devalues everything.”
Then Krzyzewski put on his storytelling shoes and set up a mini-narrative to bolster his case.
“A lot of the people say, Well, what are we doing the regular season for?” he said. “We’re doing it to get a bid. Then matchups get a lot bigger. February games are huge. You’re in a league, and on February 25, it’s a Wednesday night, and in the Missouri Valley, some team wins and they’re in the NCAA Tournament. It’s not, like, Now are you on the bubble? No. You’re in, man! It might be a decent idea to think about.”