SEC commissioner Greg Sankey is open to a conversation about expanding the NCAA Basketball Tournament, he told Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde Thursday.
While Sankey is “not ready to make headlines” about expanding the NCAA Tournament, the idea clearly intrigues him and made it worth it for him to discuss.
Sankey — who has been the SEC’s commissioner since 2015 — brought up his belief that Texas A&M should have made the 2022 NCAA Tournament after making a run to the SEC Tournament Championship.
The NCAA Tournament has been at 68 teams since 2011 when it added the “First Four” and expanded from 64 to 68 teams. Before that, the tournament expanded from 32 teams to 64 teams in 1985.
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Sankey didn’t specify any models that he would like to see in expansion, just that he wants to take “a fresh look” at the tournament format.
The NCAA Tournament expanding to 128-teams would be a major upset, but the tournament could add more First Four games. Those games essentially serve as play in games for the tournament.
The First Four has an odd name. While it indicates there are four teams playing like the Final Four it’s really the first four games of the NCAA Tournament.
Teams playing in the “First Four” have had success over the years. UCLA made the Final Four in 2021 coming out of the First Four and VCU did the same in 2011. Tennessee had success coming out of the First Four in 2014, defeating Iowa on its way to the Sweet 16.
The success of these teams gives credence to the potential for an extended tournament.
Tennessee’s made the NCAA Tournament in four of the last five years with the 2020 being the lone exception. COVID-19 cancelled the 2020 NCAA Tournament meaning no one made the 68-team field.
However, Tennessee was unlikely to make the Big Dance without a deep run in the SEC Tournament — which was also cancelled. The Vols were close enough to the bubble that they might have made an expanded tournament field.