The ACC coaches weren't completely clueless when, back in September, they proposed an expanded NCAA tournament. The notion that a pandemic-riddled season requires more, not less flexibility has merit.
The ACC proposal just went too far. About 275 teams too far.
We don't need an all-inclusive tourney to crown a worthy champion. But we might need to augment what will almost certainly be an inconsistent evaluation process with another path for worthy teams to make the field. Something that also adds value and incentive to a regular season that surely needs both.
We gave this idea the full treatment back in July, when not many were paying attention. We resurrect it now as addendum to ESPN.com's comprehensive Bracketology package. In addition to the new 48- and 16-team projections that will accompany the standard 68-team fields, we will occasionally use this space to peek at what an expanded tourney might look like.
Here's a refresher on the basics of our 80-team field idea:
Instead of the current First Four games, there will be 16 opening-round contests spread across the four regions. These games will be played on the home court of the higher seed (without fans).
Teams winning both regular-season and conference tournament championships -- double qualifiers, if you will -- will receive an opening-round bye. They become part of a 48-team group advancing directly to the central tournament site.
The number of at-large teams, currently fixed at 36, will fluctuate between 32 and 48 depending on the number of "double qualifiers" (the typical number of teams in this category is 12 to 16).
Double qualifiers who do not fall among the top 48 teams on the seed list will be seeded accordingly. In other words, a SWAC double winner will not leapfrog an SEC single winner.
Reduced travel will be a consideration in the opening-round pairings when it can be done without unduly impacting competitive balance; existing principles for avoiding intra-conference pairings remain in place.
Champ Week will provide a whole new level of drama under this format. Every conference tournament, not just the occasional one, will offer a "bid stealer" opportunity. Each time a regular-season champion is eliminated, the at-large pool will shrink by one team. Conversely, the reward for becoming a double qualifier -- no opening-round game and an additional revenue unit -- is sizable.
The bottom line for the 2020-21 season is that more teams will be in contention for NCAA bids, but with fewer ways to evaluate them. To ensure that every team with a legitimate chance to advance in the tournament is actually part of the field, we might have to expand it.
Like this (auto qualifiers in ALL CAPS):
PHOG ALLEN REGION
(1) BAYLOR vs. (16) TEXAS SOUTHERN
(8) Indiana/NC State vs. (9) RICHMOND
(5) HOUSTON vs. (12) VERMONT
(4) Tennessee vs. (13) NEW MEXICO STATE
(6) Ohio State vs. (11) Oklahoma/Southern California
(3) Creighton vs. (14) SIENA
(7) Louisiana State/Utah vs. (10) Syracuse/Dayton
(2) Illinois vs. (15) EASTERN WASHINGTON
(1) VIRGINIA vs. (16) LIBERTY
(8) Memphis/Colorado vs. (9) Providence/Ole Miss
(5) Oregon vs. (12) WESTERN KENTUCKY
(4) Michigan State vs. (13) WRIGHT STATE
(6) North Carolina vs. (11) Loyola Chicago/Minnesota
(3) KENTUCKY vs. (14) S.F. AUSTIN
(7) Rutgers/Southern Methodist vs. (10) Saint Louis/Arkansas
(2) Kansas vs. (15) COLGATE
(1) GONZAGA vs. (16) NORFOLK STATE
(8) Alabama/Virginia Tech vs. (9) UConn/Maryland
(5) ARIZONA STATE vs. (12) SOUTH DAKOTA STATE
(4) Texas vs. (13) GEORGIA STATE
(6) Florida vs. (11) NORTHERN IOWA
(3) West Virginia vs. (14) WINTHROP
(7) Louisville/Butler vs. (10) Purdue/Arizona
(2) WISCONSIN vs. (15) BOWLING GREEN
(1) VILLANOVA vs. (16) FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON
(8) Stanford/Clemson vs. (9) SAN DIEGO STATE
(5) Florida State vs. (12) UNC GREENSBORO
(4) Texas Tech vs. (13) MURRAY STATE
(6) UCLA (non-AQ) vs. (11) Miami (Fla.)/Marquette
(3) Iowa vs. (14) UC IRVINE
(7) Michigan vs. (10) Seton Hall/Brigham Young
(2) Duke vs. (15) HOFSTRA
LAST FOUR BYES
LAST FOUR IN
FIRST FOUR OUT
NEXT FOUR OUT
Big Ten (11)
Big East (7)
Big 12 (6)
Atlantic 10 (3)
Missouri Valley (2)
West Coast (2)