Happy Wednesday, dear SporticoU readers. Before we get into the serious business, I just have to point out: a $250,000 penalty for fans storming the field, and LSU boosters are taking jabs at Tennessee?! People, come on.
Anyways, back to what you really came for.
While the college football playoff expansion debate has finally settled—ICYMI: the College Football Playoff board voted in September to expand the CFP to 12 teams by no later than 2026, which will dramatically increase the playoffs’ revenue and payouts—the same debate has dominated chatter around the upcoming college basketball season.
Expanding the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments was a hot topic at media days across the country as the sport nears its November start. Coaches and commissioners weighed the pros and cons of possible expansion, and they ruminated on all the unknowns that surround the conversation.
Like… What would the model be? Do you expand from 68 to 96 teams? Or do you go even bigger and welcome 128? How would this impact March Madness payouts? Would CBS/Turner renegotiate to account for expansion, or would they want to ride out their current $8.8 billion deal for the men’s tournament, which runs through 2032, diluting the payments for participants? (Worth noting: Women’s teams don’t get paid for tournament participation like men’s teams do—where each postseason appearance in the men’s tournament brings a payday for their conference.)
Speaking of, what about media rights for the women’s tournament? Those rights are currently part of a 29-championship package held by ESPN that expires in 2024. If the women’s basketball tournament gets spun off into its own TV deal before any expansion decisions are made (it only took years of debate before CFP expansion was finalized), how does the NCAA account for the possibility of more inventory in that agreement? How do you decide when to expand for both the men’s and women’s tournaments with media rights deals that are not at all concurrent?
Then there’s the nitty-gritty timing stuff. Do the tournaments, and potentially the entire college basketball season, start earlier? Or would they run later into April, which could particularly complicate things on the men’s side. (CBS and The Masters, anyone?) The logistical questions are endless.
Whether you want to see the Big Dance expand to an even bigger pool—and a bracket that may not nicely fit on a single sheet of paper—or you’re more a fan of the exclusivity of the current set-up, these conversations have made increasingly clear that college athletics believes there is still more money to be made. Expansion is an obvious way to achieve that. More media inventory, more media money.
And while the NCAA ponders how to further grow its billion-dollar business, the governing body continues to spend a boatload on legal fees as it confronts two potentially monumental cases. There is a lot of money on the line in House v. NCAA (more on that below), while Alana Gee v. NCAA could be the first of countless wrongful death/personal injury lawsuits brought against the NCAA to reach a jury. I do not envy the NCAA’s legal counsel. Read away, SporticoU-ians.