AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. — ACC men’s basketball coaches discussed expanding the NCAA tournament during spring meetings on Tuesday, with Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton in favor of doubling the tournament field from 68.
Over the course of two days, the coaches had exhaustive discussions about what the league needs to do to get more teams into the NCAA tournament, including conversations about metrics, scheduling and yes, tournament expansion.
“I believe the NCAA tournament is the greatest sporting event in the world. It captivates everybody’s imagination for about three weeks,” Hamilton said. “Parity has set in. I might be a little ridiculous when I make this comment, but I think you could double it. You’re already playing in Dayton on two nights. So, in two days, you’re back to the same number. So, you already got the dates. You’ve just got to figure out how to play them at different sites. Maybe that might be a little aggressive. Some people think 96 is the number. Personally, I think you need to double the tournament.
“I think it’s time to expand. I think it’s time to have that conversation for the men and women.”
In January, the NCAA Division I transformation committee recommended allowing 25% of teams in sports sponsored by at least 200 schools to compete in championship events. That would open the door to possible expansion of the NCAA basketball tournaments from 68 to as many as 90 teams each.
Part of the ACC’s issue last season was a lack of quality wins in nonconference play. Miami coach Jim Larranaga said the overriding message that was hammered home was “men’s basketball is better off if we had more Quad 1 and Quad 2 games in November and December in the nonconference, that will strengthen our NET and that’s what will impact how many teams get in.”
Asked whether that will change the way teams schedule, Larranaga said yes. But it’s not so simple. Schools make schedules years in advance believing they have lined up a quality opponent, but sometimes that team does not have the type of season that was expected.
“Steve [Forbes] brought up a couple of years ago, he scheduled Oregon State, they had gone to the Elite Eight the year before, they had four starters back, and they won four games that year,” Pitt basketball coach Jeff Capel said. “You know what I mean? I don’t think anyone anticipated Louisville just winning four games. It’s tough. It’s harder now because there’s way more parity.”
Clemson was on the bubble on Selection Sunday and did not make the NCAA tournament because it lacked enough quality wins. Coach Brad Brownell said that because of the metrics that are used, he now has found himself rooting for league teams in nonconference play to help boost the entire league.
“Sometimes early on when I was here, you know, your first couple of years, you’re watching games, and you’re not necessarily always rooting real hard for your opponents in the league, but now you want them all to win all their games,” Brownell said. “When we get to January and February, we’re going to try to kick each other’s teeth in, but in November and December, we need to cheer with pompoms for each other, because that’s what it is right now. That’s what it’s become. It’s become such a metric-driven situation.”
North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham is on the men’s basketball selection committee, and he tried to provide his perspective on how the process happened. One source of frustration for the basketball coaches was that Cunningham had to recuse himself from the room during discussions about the ACC, particularly because the Tar Heels were on the bubble.
Coaches also pointed to a narrative problem that goes back to Duke and North Carolina — when those two teams are not dominating the conference or the conversation, there is a perception the entire league is down as well.
“At the end of the day, if you go back and do your statistical analysis and look at what has happened the last 10 years, in the Elite Eight and the Final Four, the ACC is always well represented,” Hamilton said. “I don’t think enough respect has been given to the fact that the pillars of our league have allowed the Miamis, the Florida States, the Clemsons, to be pulled up to the point where it’s more competitive in our league now than it has ever been.
“That should be celebrated and embraced, but it’s almost like now as the other teams benefit from the top teams pulling it up, that becomes a detriment. Because some teams aren’t as successful, the message is like maybe the ACC is not quite as good. That’s not true.”