Athens, GA (Sept 18, 2008) - Is the size of next year's NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament going to be cut to 32 or 48 teams next year? Given the madness in the current economy, and the growing turmoil in the financial markets that is rocking the United States and global economy, anything is possible. But no, it is not likely that the question posed will happen.
This does not mean that there may not be changes in how the NCAA conducts championships in all sports in the near future. You may ask yourself why, and the answer is as simple as the microeconomic pain you are feeling when you fill your car with gasoline or buy food at the grocery store. It is the cost of doing anything these days, especially travel. Increased costs and inconvenient routing for travel that will happen later this Fall when airlines cut flight capacity by 10% is hitting the NCAA right where it hurts the organization most: in the pocketbook.
Michelle Brutlag Hosick of The NCAA News is reporting that:
After high fuel prices, decreased flight capacity and new trip-related fees resulted in higher-than-budgeted expenses for championships travel during the past fiscal year, all three NCAA divisions are studying how to respond to those conditions during 2008-09.
The Executive Committee Finance Committee approved a review of travel-related issues and requested that various governance bodies, including the Division I Championships/Sports Management Cabinet and the Divisions II and III Championships Committees, provide an initial report and any recommendations related to championships travel management to the Executive Committee and leadership in each division by October 30.
The NCAA national office staff has been monitoring a changing environment that resulted in a $7.2 million increase in championships travel expenses during the recently completed fiscal year, compared to 2006-07. Costs in Division I increased 31 percent last year and 58 percent over the last three years. In Division II the increase was almost 13 percent last year and 44 percent over the last three. Division III has seen increases of 7.5 percent over the last year and about 43 percent for the three-year period.
Indications are that the trends will continue, with a projected increase of $6 to $7 million in Division I travel expenses, assuming no changes to current travel, seeding and bracketing policies are made (emphasis added).
The last statement is where eyebrows should be raised. Unless someone comes up with a magical pot of gold (and assuming the NCAA does not have enough of the money from their TV contracts in reserve), something will have to give, and it is not likely to be the cash cow of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.
What might we expect to see? It is possible that teams will no longer be sent as far from their natural geographic reasons. But for that to happen, the imbalance of what conferences tournament teams come from may have to shift. with the Big East, ACC and SEC losing spots to lesser teams from the west. Or maybe we will see a bracket that has Duke, North Carolina, and NC State playing their first round games in Greensboro. Laugh if you will, but as stated earlier, anything is possible these crazy days.
The NCAA will also have to factor television, and other things, into any decisions. How much flexibility will they have in setting up brackets to ensure the big games and potential match-ups for prime time? How many adjustments will networks have to make to accommodate changed schedules or tournaments. Will the Post-Season NIT be killed as way to say money? And all those people clamoring for Division IA, oops I means FBS, football playoffs? One word: Fuggedaboutit!
There are a lot of questions that all three levels of the NCAA will have to address in the reports that are due October 30. Why the 30th? Maybe so no one will be scared out of their wits on Halloween. Maybe, just maybe the Federal Government will have to step in and bail the NCAA out.
In the end, one thing is for sure. Let's not delude ourselves that this is about the students, as Hosick also reported:
NCAA championships officials acknowledge that adjustments may be necessary to manage some of these costs and the reduction in scheduled commercial flights, but the governance bodies are being urged to take appropriate steps to minimize the impact on student-athletes (emphasis added).
It's all about the money.