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Tuesday, April 13, 2010
NCAA wasting no time with expansion

By Eamonn Brennan

After Gordon Hayward's last-second heave, but before I left for a quick vacation in the sandy sun-soaked oasis that is Scottsdale, Ariz.,* I wrote that the No. 1 storyline worth following this offseason was NCAA tournament expansion -- whether the tournament would expand, how it would do so, and when. It now appears likely that storyline is going to come and go before this offseason even starts.

According to the Sports Business Journal (via The Dagger), NCAA interim president Jim Isch is going to reveal his decision -- which pretty much everyone in the world expects to be in favor of a 96-team tournament format -- as soon as the NCAA convenes an executive committee meeting on April 29. The original deadline most people had in their heads was July 31, which is when the NCAA's current opt-out window closes; that deadline now looks merely ceremonial.

That's not the only interesting bit from the SBJ's report, though. There's also the little matter of whether the NCAA will divide the tournament between CBS and Turner Sports if ESPN doesn't win the rights all on its lonesome. To wit:
CBS is contractually obligated to share its business results with the NCAA each year, and the network has showed that it didn’t turn a profit on the tournament this year, sources said. “It’s pretty clear that an over-the-air network can’t afford this event by itself,” said one executive with knowledge of the discussions.

By teaming with Turner, CBS would have a partner that would help pay that rights fee, which isn’t expected to grow much beyond the current deal. If the NCAA goes that route, the Final Four would alternate from over-the-air to cable each year.

This is the new face of the NCAA tournament. 96 teams. Two new networks. An unrecognizable morass grown solely for the sake of money. A perfectly good thing ruined. And all by April 29. Who said the NCAA was a bumbling bureaucratic mess? This expansion thing is being carried out with Spartan efficiency.

*Back now. It feels good. No college basketball for six months? Less so. Let's settle in, shall we?