NCAA Unveils 68-Team Tournament Format

New opening round sadly not named the Seth [Greenberg] Sweepstakes:

The final four at-large teams and final four automatic qualifiers in the newly minted 68-team NCAA men's basketball tournament field will meet for the right to enter the traditional 64-team draw, tournament selection committee chairman Dan Guerrero announced Monday.

The "First Four" will be played either the Tuesday or Wednesday after Selection Sunday. The winners of the four games will advance to what will now be called the "second round" on either Thursday or Friday. The newly named third round -- with 16 games -- will be Saturday and Sunday. The rest of the tournament -- regional semifinals (Sweet 16) and regional finals (Elite Eight) -- will remain as they have been, as will the Final Four, which is set for Houston in 2011.

The games will be televised on TruTv (formerly CourtTV), which is available in 93 million homes, said NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen, who manages the NCAA tournament.

[snip]

Guerrero and Shaheen said the last four at-large teams would be put on the seed line the committee decided they earned. So, this could mean that two could be considered No. 12 seeds playing for the right to play a No. 5 and two could be No. 11s vying to play a No. 6 in the second round.

As Ken Pomeroy pointed out, this is not exactly fair.  (Should be fun, though.)  But as Andy Katz's story makes clear, the NCAA is of the opinion that those at-large schools are lucky to be in the tournament and have nothing to complain about.  In a strict RPI sense, that may be true.  But because the RPI is such a poor indicator of strength, you can bet we're going to see underrated teams forced to deal with the added degree of difficulty:

Now, if you’re talking about a team seeded as high as a 10, there’s a good chance that said team is way better than the selection committee could have realized. To require a team that good to win an extra game while every year the 64th-best team in the field is guaranteed a comparatively easy six-win path is antithetical to what’s made the NCAA tournament the best postseason spectacle in major American team sports. We’ve trusted the tournament’s outcomes precisely to the extent that the courts have been neutral, the brackets have been balanced, and the opportunities have been equal.

The release from the NCAA is here.

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