KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Could a dozen Big 12 teams make a future NCAA Tournament? Don’t laugh. It’s possible. A campaign to expand the NCAA Tournament to 96 teams is gaining steam, and no one seriously believes the extra 31 slots won’t go to the power conferences.
"I don’t think it would go that far, but it would go significantly further than it has now, with the quality of our league,” Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe said of expansion to 96 teams. But not every Big 12 coach supports a bloated field. "I like what we have now,” Texas’ Rick Barnes said. "Why break what I think is one of the great sporting events in the country?” Supporters offer several reasons. More opportunities for players on the grand stage. Coaches’ security. And, of course, the reason that trumps all. Money. "As anything, it has its pros and cons,” said Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford. "This is such a big deal to them (players). The NCAA Tournament isn’t a game. It’s an event.” But Ford asks the operative question, "Does it (expansion) make it less special, maybe water it down a little bit?” Missouri coach Mike Anderson played on the University of Tulsa’s 1981 NIT title game. "Eons ago,” Anderson said. "We had 48 (NCAA Tournament) teams. Since then, there are more than 300 Division I schools. That’s been almost 30 years ago. "I think it makes sense to expand. To 96, I don’t know about that.” Neither does Beebe, who this year joined the NCAA basketball committee. Beebe said he initially was skeptical about expanding the tournament but now wants to keep an open mind. "My skepticism was based a lot about what kind of effect adding more games to the post-season would have to the regular season,” Beebe said. "Would it make the regular season a lot less valuable in terms of those of us trying to sell television to the regular season, as well as the campuses trying to sell tickets to the regular season? "Then also for our own post-season tournament. Would it make it less valuable, when the general public feels ... that almost all our teams might get into the NCAA post-season?” The NCAA’s tournament contract with CBS is entering an opt-out period; through July 31, the NCAA is free to negotiate for a new deal or continue the contract, which after this season has three years and $2.13 billion remaining on the original 13-year, $6-billion agreement. When the NCAA field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, there were 284 Division I teams.