By MICHAEL MAROT AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — The NCAA’s Board of Directors approved an expanded men’s basketball tournament Thursday, passing a proposal that will take the field from 65 teams to 68 next season.
The move comes one week after NCAA officials recommended the first expansion of March Madness since 2001, when the tourney added one team to the 64-team field that was established in 1985.
Still to be determined: How the format will work.
The board is hoping that by adding three opening-round games to the one already played, it will eliminate the stigma of a what outsiders have dubbed the tourney’s “play-in” game.
Thanks to the new 14-year, $10.8 billion television package with CBS and Turner Broadcasting, announced last week, fans will be able to choose which games they want to watch. It will be the first time that every game will be televised live nationally.
And now the tourney will have three more teams competing — fewer than most people were expecting.
Four weeks ago during the Final Four in Indianapolis, NCAA officials discussed the possibility of expanding to 80 or 96 teams, proposals that were rejected after television executives said additional games would not affect their bids for broadcast rights and the public complained that so many more teams would water down the competition.
While the NCAA kept the ability to expand at will, it went with the much more modest 68-team format that likely means three more at-large bids.
“Expanding to 68 teams gave us an opportunity to involve more teams in the championship, and in doing that, we were able to enhance the experience of the opening-round game,” said Clemson president James Barker, the committee chairman. “Expansion enables us to give more exposure to the universities and provide more opportunities for student-athletes.”
Committee members were not immediately available to answer questions on a day they were also scheduled to discuss legislative proposals regarding the use of athletes’ names, images and likenesses in commercial products, concussions and tougher academic standards for junior college transfers.
But the top of the agenda was the NCAA’s marquee event.
“We will spend the next two months studying various options and garnering feedback from the membership in an effort to finalize a format for the four opening-round games that makes the most sense for everyone involved,” UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, the outgoing selection committee chairman.
Guerrero also chairs the Division I men’s basketball committee, which must approve format changes.