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Thursday, April 1, 2010
NCAA tries to defend expansion, fails

By Eamonn Brennan

If you were hoping today's press conference with NCAA senior vice president of basketball and business strategies Greg Shaheen was going to yield positive information regarding the impending NCAA Expansionpocalypse, well, sorry. It didn't. Instead, it got heated.

You can read the full transcript of the press conference here, and there will be plenty more coverage to come. But for now, two major points should be made:

1. The NCAA has made up its mind; expansion seems more likely than ever. After Shaheen was introduced at the press conference, he discussed at length the various "models" the NCAA is considering -- the current setup, an 80-team-field, and the much-discussed 96-team field that has drawn derision from nearly every corner of college basketball. But Shaheen really only spent time discussing the 96-team-field -- how it would look, where it would be played, when the games would take place, and so on. After that, Shaheen spent much of his time defending the tournament from the popular criticisms. He discussed at length the notion that teams wouldn't have to travel more, that champions would only have to play an extra game or two to win the tournament, and that every team would still have a chance to qualify through the conference tournaments as they do. Overall, it seems the NCAA is already on the PR offensive. This isn't a bad thing! Promise! Questions please?

2. And this is where things got really hairy. The Washington Post's John Feinstein asked a question about teams having to play what will essentially be an entire week's worth of games -- Sunday to Wednesday to Saturday/Sunday to the second round regionals. Feinstein continued to hammer his point in questioning, and Shaheen's response was, um, not convincing. And by "unconvincing," I mean Shaheen refused to answer the question. (Warning: long blockquote ahead):
Q. To follow up, if you're going Saturday/Tuesday, Sunday/Tuesday then with the teams that advance if they're playing Saturday/Sunday games, right?
GS: They would play Saturday/Tuesday.

Q. So you're not going to play any games on Sunday of the first weekend?
GS: No. You'd play half the games on Saturday, half the games on Sunday.

Q. The Sunday teams that advance would play on Tuesday or are you saying Wednesday?
GS: Wednesday.

Q. Basically they'll be out of school an entire week the second week?
GS: Actually, if you were to look at the window for each individual team, you have to take each team and contemplate the fact right now you have half the field leaving campus on Tuesday, returning on Sunday or Monday.

Q. If they lose. I'm talking about the teams that win and advance. You're going to advance 16 teams.
GS: No, actually in the current model you have teams that depart on Tuesday, and even if they win, return on Sunday.

Q. We're misunderstanding each other. Under the new model that you laid out, you play 64 teams Thursday/Friday. 32 advance to games Saturday/Sunday. Then you are down after those games to 32 teams.
GS: Right.

Q. You're saying you play games in the round of 32 Tuesday/Wednesday. They would then advance to regionals when?
GS: They would continue into the regional as it's normally scheduled now.

Q. So they would go Tuesday to Thursday, Wednesday to Friday?
GS: Right.

Q. So they miss an entire week of school. That's what I'm trying to get.
GS: If you listened to my original answer, they leave now on Tuesday.

Q. I'm talking about the second week, not the first week. They play a game Saturday/Sunday, play a game Tuesday or Wednesday, then go directly to the regional. Tell me when in that second week they're going to be in class.
GS: The entire first week, the majority of the teams would be in class.

Q. You're just not going to answer the question about the second week. You're going to keep referring back to the first week, right? They're going to miss the entire second week under this model.
GS: So they're going to go to school the first week, and then they're --

Q. They're going to be under the same schedule you said basically the first week, and then they'll miss the entire second week.
GS: I'm clearly missing the nuance of your point.

Q. You and I miss nuances a lot. Thank you.
(Press conference moderator) Bob Williams: Next question, please.

Get in there, moderator! Things are getting off the rails! Help!

If it seems awkward enough on the transcript, read Dana O'Neil and Pat Forde and Gary Parrish's tweets from the actual media room. Shaheen was cornered, couldn't admit that the tournament was indeed forcing second-round teams to miss classes for an entire week, and so decided to basically ignore the question. Brutal. As Parrish wrote, "The truth is that expansion is a money grab. But the NCAA can't say that b/c, you know, it's not a business. Puts Shaheen in bad spot." And from the room, it seems even more clear than on the transcript that the NCAA has already made up its mind here. As Pat also added: "It's not a wonderful thing. But there is no doubt left that it's going to happen."

So there you have it. The NCAA wants more money, even at the expense of revealing itself to be apparently unconcerned with the notion of "student athletes," supposedly one of the core reasons it exists. Isn't this the major argument against a college football playoff? That students would miss too much class? And the reason why athletes can't get paid -- because they're amateurs whose focus should revolve around the pursuit of a degree? One bright side: Maybe this means the NCAA is dropping all the student-athlete pretense once and for all, which would actually be a welcome change. How quaint, right?

Meanwhile, those of you (us) hoping expansion was just something the NCAA was noodling around, covering its financial bases before it decided that this was a terrible idea that ran counter to what currently makes the NCAA tournament so awesome? Those hopes are officially crushed. The 96-team field is happening, whether we like it or not. And if today's press conference is any indication, it'll be an even bigger mess than anyone imagined.