96-Team Madness Will Be More Popular Than 64

My interest in college basketball effectively ended when players started jumping to the NBA as babies. That development severely diminished the previous level of play and intrigue from the game. Knowing I was no longer watching the best, there was no going back.

96 Teams Will Be More Popular Than 64

(Basketball fan? Back of the line, babu)

Perhaps that only applies to my generation and older, but why then has interest in the NBA draft has completely fallen off the map?

Though I fully acknowledge I am significantly in the minority when it comes to the level of interest Americans have in March Madness. The NCAA basketball tournament, after the Super Bowl, is the most popular, yearly spectator sports event we have.

But like the Super Bowl, the reason for that has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the games or competition.

It isn’t a revelation to say that the interest sparked in the NCAA basketball tournament is mainly derived from office gambling pools, which is why I find it amusing that so many media members and hoops fans are saying that a move to 96 teams will hurt interest in the tournament.

On the contrary, the reason for the incredible interest in March Madness is that virtually no basketball acumen goes in to filling out a bracket. So anyone in the office can win. Expanding the tournament from 64 to 96 teams only increases the chances that a fan who is clueless about hoops can win their office pool.

When you examine television ratings of the NCAA Tournament, you see massive numbers early in the tournament, when more folks are alive in their office pools. If the top, predictable seeds make it to the Final Four, that interest generally continues. But in the case of this year, which saw most of the power programs knocked out before Indy, ratings will be down for the Final Four because viewership for March Madness is directly related to how many people are still alive in their office pools.

Never mind that Butler making it to the finals is one of the most amazing stories in the history of college basketball. But because only a tiny percentage of people picked them to go to the Final Four, ratings tonight for the Duke-Butler championship game won’t be nearly as stellar as you think.

Meanwhile, 96 teams may well produce more unpredictability, meaning that more of the pin the tail on the donkey pool pickers could be alive every year for the Final Four, which in turn could mean higher TV ratings.

So with that in mind, it’s natural to surmise that the NCAA will continue to expand the tournament field.

True enough, but only if that number of teams can fit legibly onto a single sheet of paper.