Possible paths for NCAA tournament

With conferences in flux, the NCAA tournament format faces an uncertain future

Updated: October 26, 2011, 3:32 PM ET
By Joe Lunardi | ESPN Insider

Now that the other shoe has dropped in conference realignment, we can finally move on in our discussions about the future of the NCAA tournament. I, for one, am relieved to see Oral Roberts leaving the Summit League for the Southland Conference. Why should BCS schools have all the fun?

But, seriously, it's been at least an hour since anyone has asked what "all this league stuff" means for basketball. The serious answer is the same as it was when the Texas A&M Aggies started dancing with the SEC, when the Pittsburgh Panthers and Syracuse Orange took off for the ACC, and when the Big 12 lost the Colorado Buffaloes and Nebraska Cornhuskers last year.

Division I basketball is a spectator. Its revenues pale in comparison to those of major college football. All that matters to athletic departments that are trying to balance their books is the most lucrative affiliation possible. That's why Colorado went west, why Syracuse looked south and why the Boise State Broncos -- who aren't even in the eastern part of Idaho -- could land in the Big East.

Can't you just see that emerging Boise-Providence field hockey rivalry? But I digress.

With so many moving parts, all we can do is speculate about how the NCAA tournament might look in two or three or five years. Based on the conversations I've had with those in and around the sport, I'm seeing up to four possibilities on the horizon and share them only on the condition that you don't hold me to anything since the current state of the game is very much in flux. The four options: