Multiple Internet sources reported this week that the University of North Carolina may be on the verge of joining the Big Ten. Twenty-five years ago, UNC was 450 miles away from the nearest Big Ten school.In the last 10 years, the Crossroads League has expanded by 25 percent; both new schools are at least 100 miles from their nearest conference opponent.
In college athletics, it’s clear that more is better. Why don’t we expand that to college sports’ biggest moneymaker: the NCAA basketball tournament?
The three college sports governing bodies boast more than 1,600 four-year members between them, so why do only 68 get to play for the crystal basketball? If we doubled the number of rounds from seven to 14, there would be more than enough space for all interested parties.
14 rounds would be 16,384 teams, or a hair more than 10 per school. That should be enough: at Goshen, it would encompass the varsity and most intramural teams down into the “B” League. I know that will lead to arguments over who does and doesn’t belong, but those happen anyway: every year, some mid-major team gets in with a sub-.500 record and a stroke of luck. Having more than 8,000 first-round games would probably also lead to teams with non-uniform uniforms (remember my column on individuality last week?) and create a backlog for TV scheduling, but who doesn’t love taped basketball in the middle of May? I’m sure we would all know where to find Jake Smucker for the tourney’s two-month run.
All kidding aside, of course that expansion will never happen. It creates way too much travel and even more games that are entirely devoid of significance and, quite simply, it borders on ludicrous. Unfortunately for college sports fans, many of our beloved conferences are facing a similar fate.
To be fair, I acknowledge that there is a difference between blowing up a national tournament and expanding a conference. But the premises are similar: we’re stretching our boundaries to squeeze every possible bit of addition-induced marginal utility out of our leagues and those leagues lose the common threads that held them together.
Once, it stood to reason that college athletic conferences were groups of schools who organized their athletic programs to band together and ease scheduling. Today, too many of these conferences have been replaced by aggregations of state and church institutions that are trying to grab as much TV money as they can.
Is a conference game trip from the Carolinas to the Cornhusker State designed with student-athletes in mind? Or is it designed to impose the will of bean counters on the regional alliances that forged our athletic allegiance?