Q & A with Division I Men’s Basketball Committee chair: Dan Guerrero spoke to a select group of reporters about the format for the expanded, 68-team championship in 2011. Read the story
Q & A with NCAA Senior Vice president of Division I Men’s Basketball and Business Strategies: Greg Shaheen spoke to a select group of reporters about Monday’s “First Four” announcement. Read the story
Chronology: How the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship bracket has grown over time: Read the story
Looking back: An inside look at how the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1984. Read the story
By David Worlock
The Division I Men's Basketball Committee today announced plans for the 2011 NCAA “First Four” to showcase the expanded field for the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship.
The 2011 championship will tip off with four first-round games, all broadcast nationally in primetime on Turner Broadcasting's truTV.
The four games will highlight the start of the Road to Houston as part of NCAA's new 14-year partnership with Turner Broadcasting and CBS Sports.
The expansion to eight teams will constitute the first round of the championship, with the second- and third-rounds played to round out of the first week of play. Two of the first-round games will feature the last four at-large teams selected to the championship field, while the other two games will match teams ranked 65 through 68 on the overall seed list. The winners of the four games will advance to the second round.
In April, the committee was charged by the Division I Board of Directors to determine the new 68-team format for the championship. Since that time, the committee actively solicited input from the NCAA membership. During its annual meeting, the committee reviewed and analyzed options, considering the benefits of each.
When the Mountain West Conference was created in 1999, NCAA membership chose to add a 65th team to the tournament, creating a single opening-round game starting in 2001. Going to 68 teams in 2011 allows for all four regions of the championship to be balanced in size, with 31 conference automatic qualifiers and 37 at-large selections – four more than the traditional 64-team configuration.
“With the new bracket essentially featuring four additional at-large teams, the committee determined it was appropriate to have the teams play in the first round,” said Dan Guerrero, the director of athletics at UCLA and chair of the committee for the 2009-10 academic year. “We believe this format provides an extraordinary opportunity for the championship's first-round games to be quality match-ups as March Madness begins.”
The two at-large pairings will both occupy the seed line where they would normally be placed in the bracket. The pairings could occupy different lines in the bracket. For example, one game may be played between two No. 10 seeds, while the other could feature a pair of No. 12 seeds. Winners of those games would advance to play their natural opponent on a 64-team bracket; the No. 10 seed would play a seventh-seeded team and a 12th-seeded team would meet a No. 5 seed. In accordance with the bracketing procedures, teams will continue to be assigned to the closest available geographic location while avoiding regular-season rematches and conference opponents. This marks the first time in tournament history that the last four at-large teams will be publicly revealed.
The winners of the two first-round games involving teams seeded 65 through 68 will advance to second-round play against number one-seeded teams.
The 2010 Selection, Seeding and Bracketing Principles and Procedures are available at www.ncaa.com/finalfour. The 2011 Principles and Procedures will be available in August.
The schedule and location of the 2011 First Four games will be announced in the coming weeks. “We will examine all options moving forward, and that includes playing the first-round games at one site on one date, at multiple sites on multiple dates, or any combination therein,” Guerrero said.
“With all 67 games being broadcast nationally live across the Turner and CBS networks and a variety of other platforms, this is an exciting time for the growth of the championship,” said Guerrero. “From the First Four to the Final Four, the tournament has a history of successful expansion and format evolution, and we're excited about what will be the latest transformation of one of the world's great sporting events.”
All 68 teams earn full units from the NCAA Basketball distribution fund based upon participation and wins leading to the Final Four.
Second- and third-round sites for the 2011 championship will be played Thursday-Sunday, March 17-20 in Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Tampa, Tucson, Tulsa and Washington D.C. Regionals will take place March 24-27 in Anaheim, Newark, New Orleans and San Antonio, while the 73rd Final Four will be held in Houston April 2 and 4. Host cities for the second- and third-rounds and regionals have been determined for the 2012 and „13 championships, while Final Four cities have been selected through 2016.
In 1980, the NCAA expanded the field from 40 to 48, with an equal split of automatic and at-large bids. One year later, it became NCAA policy that no more than 50 percent of tournament berths be filled by automatic qualifiers.
In 1983, the number of conferences eligible for automatic entry passed the 50 percent mark, so the conference champions of the eight lowest-rated conferences had to play in opening-round games that determined the No. 12 seeds in the 48-team field. The next year, the championship featured five opening-round games, with one winner slotting in at a No. 11 seed and the other four occupying the No. 12 seeds. The championship field expanded to 64 in 1985, eliminating the need for opening round games until the 65th team was added in 2001.
David Worlock is the Associate Director of Division I Men's Basketball