Holding down expenses by not flying teams out of their own regions until the Final Four would help profits somewhat. But the NCAA can institute that money-saving change without necessarily adding a single team to the field.
?The Hammel plan would render all regular-season and conference-tournament games irrelevant, because teams would no longer need a winning record to get an NCAA Tournament berth, and they wouldn't be competing for either a home-court advantage or a seeding. The games preceding the national tournament would be so meaningless that they might just as well be played by pickup teams in playgrounds. And if games were to become this meaningless, attendance and TV ratings would inevitably slip.
?An open tournament won't reduce the pressure on coaches to cheat, because it won't give coaches any added job security. "Getting into the tournament is now a criterion of success for coaches," says Georgetown Athletic Director Frank Rienzo, "but once every team gets in, coaches will no longer get any credit for it. So they will have done nothing to help their job security."
Perhaps many a coach dreams that he'll be able to salvage a lackluster season, and his job, by getting lucky in the early rounds of the tournament. But it wouldn't prove so easy to trick administrators and alumni into mistaking a lousy team for a good one. People with college degrees recognize ineptitude when they see it.
?It would be blatantly unfair to allow a horde of also-rans into the tournament alongside truly deserving teams. Consider, for instance, the merit of letting in last season's seven worst Division I teams: Virginia Miltary, which triumphed exactly once and averaged 22 fewer points than its opponents; Prairie View, which won twice and averaged 17 fewer points than its rivals; Loyola Marymount, which won three games; and Georgia State, Utah State, Utica and Wagner, winners of four games apiece. Together the sad seven lost 162 games and won 22. They don't belong on a tournament draw sheet; they belong in the Book of Job.
Admittedly, the present size of the field excludes many teams more worthy than these. But as Dave Gavitt, chairman of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee, says, "For a high-quality tournament, you should invite only those teams with a legitimate chance of winning the championship. That's what we've tried to do, and I think we've done a creditable job."
Gavitt may be blowing his own horn, but he's playing the right tune. The Division I tournament has long been a model of fair athletic competition, and the NCAA will be well-advised to leave it alone. As before, teams should have to qualify for the tournament the old-fashioned way. They should earn it.