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Could we see a 353-team NCAA Basketball Tournament? ACC proposes exactly that

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After being canceled in 2020, the ACC thinks the 2021 NCAA Tournament should take a big dose of steroids for this season.

North Dakota State v Duke Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Out this morning was a report from Jon Rothstein that the ACC is going to propose all 353 Division I basketball teams should receive a bid to the 2021 NCAA tournament.

The ACC proposal would theoretically come from the perspective of “fairness” in light of a reduced non-conference season, or the possibility that no non-conference games may end up occurring in the end. Trying to sort out how to determine at-large bids and how to seed teams in light of this would be nearly impossible. While we use the “eye test” to say certain conferences are good during the regular season, the non-conference portion of the season does help gauge teams early for how leagues may stack up against each other as well. Lacking this makes it difficult to accurately determine inter-league competition for at-large bids. However, the ACC proposal itself to try and solve this dilemma seems problematic and unlikely for a number of reasons.

If this scenario were to actually take place, which is realistically probably close to a zero percentage chance of being considered, it would take a play-in game and three rounds to whittle the field down to something closer to the 68 team tournament we know and love in a normal season. Even after those three additional rounds, there would still be 88 teams in what would essentially become the “first round” series. The “Round of 32” would become the “Round of 44.” Then it gets wonky as the “Sweet 16” becomes the “Sweet 22” and the “Elite 8” becomes the “Elite 11.” Grant it at some point you need to figure out how to sort out the mess because you can’t have a “Final Four” featuring 5.5 teams and a championship game featuring 2.75 teams.

Taking the wonky bracket this mess would create and setting it aside, the other reality is the logistics for this are difficult to achieve. Finding sites for the first week to week and a half of games that would be added to the front end is a monumental undertaking to say the least. Then there is the question of how realistic it would be to safely play these games with so many teams, so much travel, and so many behind the scenes individuals needed to pull it off in the middle of a pandemic.

Then of course there is the question of how would you possibly structure the seeding for such a bracket? Does a team that has a losing record in a conference-only season even deserve a chance to compete in the tournament? I think most everyone can agree that Nebraska and Northwestern should not have made the 2020 NCAA tournament, and Minnesota likely should not have, either. Now take a 2-11 Western Illinois in the Summit League or a 2-11 Holy Cross team in the Patriot League and make a believable case for why that team should have been given a bid for the NCAA tournament.

Overall, I personally can’t call this suggestion anything but absurd. While the ACC has a point at offering an expanded tournament just this one time due to special circumstances, the notion that all 353 Division I teams should participate diminishes the quality of the tournament and is logistically unrealistic. Expect some discussion of an expanded field to result from it, and should bare interesting conversations about what might happen as a more realistic solution for 2021.