Who wins if March Madness expands?

Marketplace Staff Feb 25, 2010

Who wins if March Madness expands?

Marketplace Staff Feb 25, 2010


Bob Moon: In a little over two weeks the madness will begin: 65 college basketball teams will be invited to the NCAA basketball March Madness playoffs. Teams that win their conference’s championships are automatically entered into the big dance. That’s about half. The rest are chosen by a committee of athletic directors. Lately, there’s been talk that the tournament should expand to include 96 schools, which would mean an extra playoff round. Wall Street Journal sportswriter Darren Everson is here to talk about this. Hi, Darren.

Darren Everson: Hello, how are you?

MOON: Good, thanks. What could it mean for the schools that might be invited here? What would be the financial impact for the schools?

EVERSON: Well, besides just a visibility factor there’s also, and clearly this is also something that fans worry about, whether this is just a money grab on the part of the NCAA. And the answer of course, is sure, of course there’s a fiscal motive here, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When you look at the shape that college sports are in, a lot of these schools are struggling, especially the ones that don’t have another revenue-generating sport, so to try to maximize that revenue for those schools seems like an obvious thing to try to do.

MOON: Right now, CBS holds the exclusive rights to broadcast the tournament?

EVERSON: That’s right, three years they’ve run on that, but the NCAA has the right to opt out after this year, which is the reason this has come up.

MOON: So how much does the network make from all this, and would they make more?

EVERSON: That’s a good question. I mean when the network package first began, the 11-year, $6-billion deal with CBS, at first it was thought of as a bloated contract on the part of the network that it was overpaying. And now you see the NCAA looking at potentially trying to get out of it. This could certainly end up being even more costly for the network or for whomever else ends up picking these rights. But as you can tell just from the interest this has generated, just the idea that the NCAA might go and put this out to the highest bidder, that this is still a very lucrative property.

MOON: Pull this out a bit, who else could benefit from this, cities, arenas, temporary jobs?

EVERSON: Certainly on the last two, because you’d go from having 64 games to having in the current 65 team format, to having 95 games, and so you have that many more dates for these arenas and temporary workers to fill. I don’t know so much about cities, simply because the extra games that you’re going to be adding, these aren’t like some of the Bull games that have come on board. Bull games have always been something that fans travel to because they have a great deal of time to book trips and to look ahead to the travel. The NCAA tournament doesn’t quite work that way, especially if you’re talking about adding an initial round of games. Basketball teams are not the sort of things that fans travel across the country to follow in great numbers. So I’m not sure you would see a financial impact for cities in terms of fans coming across the country to stay in hotels, spend money in restaurants and that sort of thing.

MOON: Does this not raise the stakes ultimately for, at long last, a college football playoff?

EVERSON: This is not something that would affect that. Simply because the NCAA does not have the ability to go and just decide to implement a college football playoff. That power lies with the schools and conferences, and they just have not chosen to go that route.

MOON: Only time will tell is what we’re saying here, right?

EVERSON: It’s a great irony isn’t it, where that which is not broken is what they’re looking to fix. That being the college basketball tournament.

MOON: Darren Everson reports on sports for the Wall Street Journal. Thanks very much for joining us.

EVERSON: Thanks for having me.

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