Scott Sanderson is not picky.
The Lipscomb University basketball coach would be thrilled to play in the NCAA basketball tournament regardless of the format.
“It’s the only thing we haven’t done (in the Division I era),” Sanderson said. “We’ve won the regular season championship, we’ve been to the NIT. We’d be more than happy to go to the NCAA tournament.”
That being said, Sanderson found it difficult to argue with the NCAA’s announcement Monday of the format for the event, now that the field has been expanded to include 68 teams. The same was true of Belmont University coach Rick Bryd, whose team has been in the NCAA field three straight times (2006-08).
The tournament now will include a new ‘first round’ of four games – two between the final four at-large teams and two between the final four overall seeds. The second round will be the 32 games on Thursday and Friday, which typically have comprised the opening round.
The NCAA said the final four at-large seeds potentially could play for the right to earn a 10, 11 or 12 seed for the second round.
“I’m a little surprised, I thought the big guys would win out and the 16 and 17 seeds would be fighting it out to get in (the field of 64),” Byrd said. “… I’m sure the last four at-large teams will argue that they’re better than the 15 seeds, yet they will have to play one more game just to be even with the 15 seeds.”
He added that classifying the opening four contests as the ‘first round’ removes some of the stigma that was attached to the ‘play-in’ game, which was comprised of the final two overall seeds in the previous 65-team format.
“Every year we made it, we were glad that we avoided the play-in game,” Byrd said. “Once you play at a sight where there’s eight teams, you realize how much you would have missed had you been in the play-in game and lost. … If they play all those games at one site, I think they really will replicate the feel of what has been the opening weekend of the tournament.”
Sanderson was not ready to concede that the committee acted solely with the best interests of smaller conferences such as the Atlantic Sun or Ohio Valley at heart. He noted that it’s likely the last four at-large seeds will come from power conferences such as the SEC, ACC or Big East.
“That will make the first round much more attractive for television,” Sanderson said. “If they play those games over two days and each day features one game between the at-large teams and one between the lowest seeds, the ratings and the interest will be much higher than if they just had the bottom eight seeds.
“Then again, if you’re one of those bottom four seeds and you play in the first round, you have a chance to win. I think everyone wants to say they won a game in the NCAA tournament.”