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At a recent meeting, the National Association of Basketball Coaches approved a radical proposal. Of the 116 Division I coaches present, 79 voted to open the NCAA Tournament to all 277 Division I teams, excluding only those on probation. If approved next year by the NCAA Basketball and Executive committees, the stampede of teams into the tournament will begin in the 1983-84 season.
The coaches took their cue from an editorial by Bob Hammel, a sportswriter for the Bloomington, Ind. Herald-Times. Under Hammel's plan, teams would play in sectional and regional games within their own geographic areas until the Final Four. There would be no seeding of teams; first-round matchups within each area would be determined by a blind drawing. All teams would get roughly equal shares of the tournament's overall TV revenues and gate receipts.
Hammel presented his plan as a cure-all. "One more week of play could make more money than the entire tournament that the NCAA puts on now," he wrote. The money would be "dealt out more reasonably," would underwrite many basketball programs and would remove the pressure on coaches to cheat. Not shuttling teams around the country would save "money, travel time and class time." The subjective selection of tournament teams would end, and teams on probation "would be singled out more distinctly" for public embarrassment.
Tex Winter of Cal State-Long Beach, president of the coaches' association, agrees wholeheartedly. "The plan is a solution to a lot of the problems in basketball today," he says. "If we don't do something, the rich will simply get richer, and more coaches will be tempted to violate the rules for a share of that great financial bonanza, that NCAA pot of gold at the end of the rainbow."
But is the Hammel plan really a panacea? Hardly. It is a misleading fantasy that, like radioactive waste, should be buried in a deep hole. Here's why:
?The " NCAA pot of gold" is already divided dozens of ways, with both participants and non-participants receiving shares. And while the teams that advance farthest in the tournament get the biggest shares, almost no one winds up reaping a "great financial bonanza."
Last season 40% of the tournament gross—or $7.1 million—was designated to fund championships in all NCAA divisions. The remaining $10.7 million was split among the 48 participants, with Final Four teams earning slightly more than half a million dollars each. But the participants' shares weren't pure profit.
For example, champion North Carolina, as would most any team that plays in a league, had to give a big cut of its winnings to its conference ( ACC) brethren. Subtract $230,000. And though the NCAA paid the tournament expenses of the Tar Heel team, the school paid for its band, cheerleaders and officials to travel. Subtract $170,000. The bottom line is that Carolina kept about $100,000.
For the Tar Heels, that wasn't a case of the rich getting richer; it was the rich making pocket money. Last season Carolina made almost nine times that much profit from regular season and conference tournament TV and gate receipts. And its alumni and fans donated $27 million over a two-year period toward a new gym complex, a sum 50% higher than the total NCAA Tournament gross. Have-not teams that hope to match those numbers will need more than increased shares of NCAA Tournament money; they'll need to develop their own armies of rabid, free-spending supporters.
?An expanded tournament won't make an extra nickel in profit, because a sprawling slate of games that includes losers and mediocrities won't draw fans or television money. "Even last season, with 48 teams, the first two rounds of the tournament weren't easy sells," says David Cawood, NCAA Director of Public Relations. "And if television wasn't eager to put on good matchups like Boston College vs. San Francisco, they surely won't be attracted by all the inferior teams in a field five times as large."