Get ready for a First Four before the Final Four.
The NCAA revealed its plans for the expanded 68-team men’s basketball tournament Monday, opting for a format that involves the lowest seeds and last at-large qualifiers in a “First Four” round.
Beginning next March, eight teams will play early in the first week, with the winners advancing to games on Thursday or Friday.
The NCAA decided against picking the lowest eight seeds for the new round. Instead, two of the early games will match the tournament’s lowest seeds, Nos. 65 through 68, with the winners advancing to play a top seed. The other two games will match the last four at-large qualifiers. They could end up playing, say, a 4, 5 or 6 seed.
“I think it’s a nice compromise,” KU coach Bill Self told the Journal-World on Monday night from an AAU tournament in South Carolina. “I think it’s good they started tournament expansion at 68 (instead of 96) and we can study this and see how it goes. I don’t see any negatives.”
The format could prevent mid-majors from being over-represented in the first round, and could also mean that two teams from bigger conferences — those generally seeded between 11th and 13th — will be out before the tournament really gets going.
“You’re not going to come up with the perfect model,” committee chair Dan Guerrero said. “But we felt that this model provided the opportunity to do something special for the tournament.”
The NCAA announced in April that it would add three teams to the field, the first expansion since the tournament went from 64 teams to 65 in 2001 after going from 48 to 64 in 1985. The NCAA decided against to 96 teams. It settled on 68 and its new 14-year, $10.8 billion television package with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting not only ensures that every game will be televised but gives the NCAA sole authority to expand again.
All four of the “First Four” games will be broadcast on Turner’s truTV cable channel.
There has been only one opening game each year since 2001. Now, there will be 31 automatic bids and 37 at-large openings.
The at-large teams will be seeded where they would normally be placed in the bracket, meaning a first-round game between two No. 10 seeds would result in the winner advancing to play a No. 7 seed.
The NCAA said there could be games on both Tuesday and Wednesday of the tournament’s opening week. The Tuesday winners would play Thursday and the Wednesday winners would play Friday.
“The way it’s set up, somebody will be playing with only a one-day break. But we get three more teams in the tournament. It’s what the coaches wanted. We get more teams in but somebody is going to have to travel. I do think this is a great compromise,” Self told the J-W.
Atlantic 10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade called the final choice an “interesting approach” and said her members generally supported just having the bottom eight seeds slug it out to make the second round.
Locations for the first-round games have not been determined. Dayton, Ohio, which has hosted the early game since 2001, is under consideration to host each of the first four games.