Like a recluse without wireless, Craig Littlepage stubbornly resists. Like a grandfather who texts, Terry Holland reluctantly surrenders, albeit with grave concerns for civilization's future.
That pretty much summarizes the views of two former selection-committee chairmen from Virginia as the NCAA careens toward a seismic and ill-advised expansion of our most perfect sporting event:
With the 26th Final Four since the last major expansion set to conclude Monday night in Indianapolis, momentum for change in 2011 appears inexorable. Chronically insecure coaches advocate inflating the field from 65 to 96 teams, and chances are they'll prevail.
This will dilute the tournament, further devalue the regular season and remove all incentive to schedule ambitiously.
Moreover, expansion will not, contrary to convention, improve coaches' job security. Miss the tournament two years running now and you have a fighting chance to avoid the ax. Miss a 96-team field in consecutive seasons and turn in your courtesy car.
Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage served on the selection committee from 2003-07 and chaired the group in 2006, the year a contentious at-large choice, George Mason, advanced to the Final Four. Bless his old-school heart, Littlepage opposes the 50-percent growth plan.
"I would prefer going to 68 or rolling back to 64 to make the tournament symmetric," he said via e-mail.
After the 1985 expansion from 53 teams, the tournament enjoyed a flawless 64-32-16-8-4-2-1 symmetry. Adding a 65th team in 2001 created a play-in game, and a field of 68 would give each of the four regions a play-in contest.
Two play-ins for each region would goose the field to 72, awkward but palatable, as long as the teams assigned to those games were the final at-large selections and not, as is now the case, the lowest-rated conference champions.
Alas, that's not nearly enough for those advocating 96 teams — 32 first-round byes and 32 first-round games.
Such a field this season would have included Virginia Tech, a debatable omission from the 65, and William and Mary, which has never made the tournament. But a bloated bracket also would have meant 13 of 16 Big East teams and maybe even defending champion North Carolina, which sheepishly accepted an NIT bid at 16-16.
Littlepage said that he trusts the university presidents who will decide the issue — considering how ACC presidents botched expansion, such faith may be misplaced — and the current committee members who will advise the presidents.
"I'd like to know what the goals are of expanding the field," Littlepage added. "My question is, how will expansion make the tournament better?"
The goal seems obvious: Make more money.
The NCAA's 11-year, $6-billion television deal with CBS runs through 2013 but contains an out clause that can be exercised this summer. The final three years of the backloaded contract are worth $2.13 billion, and the surest way to encourage higher bids from the likes of ESPN and Fox is to offer more games, more "inventory" in business parlance.
How this might improve the product is beyond me. More telling, it's beyond Holland, a certified basketball lifer.
A committee member from 1993-98, Holland chaired the panel in 1997. He coached and served as athletic director at Davidson and Virginia, and is now the AD at East Carolina.
But like Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, Holland considers the current postseason too unwieldy and favors merging the 32-team NIT, which the NCAA runs, with the NCAA tournament.
Holland envisions the current NCAA format — eight predetermined first- and second-round sites — only with 12 teams at each venue instead of eight. The top four would receive byes.
But Holland concedes that expansion would exacerbate the poor attendance that plagued this season's early rounds — there were thousands of empty seats in Jacksonville, Fla., and New Orleans, despite the presence of marquee attractions such as Duke, Louisville, Kentucky and Texas.
"Attendance would become more of an issue with more games at the same sites and the cost of tickets going up for 10 games instead of the current six," Holland said via e-mail. "I would not pay for the current six games in (the) first and second rounds, and there will be more mediocre games with more teams.
"Eventually plan for the possibility of 128 (teams), with each of the top 16 seeds hosting eight teams at a nearby site approved by NCAA. This would guarantee good crowds for all first-round games as well as rewarding the top 16 seeds."
A 128-team, seven-round tournament? Major-conference programs scheduling dregs, content that a winning overall record would virtually assure an NCAA bid? Conference tournaments rendered obsolete? Sub-.500 teams "on the bubble"?
March madness, indeed.
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime
Money talks as common sense walks: NCAA moves toward 96-team field
We've upgraded our reader commenting system. Learn more about the new features.
The Baltimore Sun encourages civil dialogue related to our stories; you must register and log-in to our site in order to participate. We reserve the right to remove any user and to delete comments that violate our Terms of Service. By commenting, you agree to these terms. Please flag inappropriate comments.