The National Collegiate Athletic Association announced Thursday that the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship will likely expand from 65 to 68 teams as part of a new 14-year, $10.86-billion broadcasting deal with CBS Sports and the Turner Broadcasting System.
Last Wednesday, the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee unanimously approved a recommendation to expand the tournament by three teams, starting next year. This change will be officially considered by the Division I Board of Directors Thursday. Though the broadcasting deal was based on a 68-team tournament, NCAA officials say it is not contingent upon the board’s approval of expansion. The board, however, traditionally gives great weight to committee recommendations.
The talk of a three-team expansion puts to rest months of speculation that the NCAA would elect to expand the tournament to include 96 teams. NCAA officials say much of this talk was overplayed.
“There were a number of people who made the assumption we were going to 96 when, in fact, we were conducting our due diligence,” explained Jim Isch, interim president of the NCAA, during an uncharacteristically long conference call with reporters. “Sixty-eight was relatively easy to understand and much less complicated than going to 96, which was where most of the interest was placed.”
Isch and other NCAA officials, however, would not explicitly rule out expansion to 96 teams at some point in the future; the new contract with CBS and Turner has the flexibility to accommodate such a change if it were made.
Sean McManus, president of both CBS Sports and News, said that the network is pleased with the recommended 68-team tournament and does not need for it to accommodate any more teams (and therefore last longer) to make the broadcasting deal worthwhile. He did, however, note that CBS needed to team with Turner to outbid the offers made by other cable outlets. Most publicly, ESPN made a bid for the tournament.
The NCAA opted out of its current 11-year, $6-billion contract with CBS to pursue the new agreement. At $10.86 billion, the new 14-year deal pays the NCAA nearly $776 million annually. Subtracting spending by the NCAA’s headquarters, Isch said, the new deal “will provide on average more than $740 million annually to NCAA conferences and member schools.”
Most of the NCAA’s revenue is generated by the broadcasting contract for the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship. Currently, 96 percent of this money is distributed to all member institutions, regardless of division, “either in direct payments or in programs and services.”
Greg Shaheen, NCAA senior vice president of basketball and business strategies, said the beginnings of the new broadcasting deal date back to foundations laid by Myles Brand, the late NCAA president who died of pancreatic cancer last September.
“It is ironic as we gather to talk about this agreement that the blueprint we followed was laid out by Myles several years ago,” Shaheen said. “This has been a project that has been worked on since literally 2004. This conclusion we are announcing today is not only one that we can be confident Myles would be proud of, but rightfully reflects what intercollegiate athletics is all about. It coincides with the mission and vision that he charged us all to see forward over the last several years of his leadership.”
Officials from the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, an NCAA watchdog group, were cautious about Thursday's deal.
"In the past, more revenue gained from more games and more television has not always resulted in outcomes that have furthered our educational missions," wrote William E. Kirwan, co-chairman of the Knight Commission and president of the University System of Maryland, in a statement. "Now is the time to better manage commercial success and ensure that sports programs and their growth are aligned with the primary missions of our universities."
Kirwan added that the Knight Commission was "pleased" that the NCAA is not currently pursuing a 96-team tournament, noting that "the additional postseason games would have produced indefensible intrusions on college athletes’ academic obligations."
Next March, all tournament games will be broadcast live on CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV. CBS will retain exclusive coverage of the regional championship games and the Final Four – including the national championship game – through 2015. Staring in 2016, however, CBS and TBS will split coverage of the regional finals with the Final Four, and the national championship game will alternate between them each year.