What’s going on with the NCAA Tournament? Is the big dance approaching its last dance?

So I sent a simple message to a sports director of Power 5 on July 4th. One of them appreciates the texts of the day.

So hit it with this: What happened to the NCAA Tournament?

His answer: “Excellent question.”

A few more calls to industry sources and athletic directors yielded essentially the same result: In the event of a large-scale realignment of super conference colleges, no one really knows what’s going on with the NCAA tournament up close. of $11 billion.

“CBS doesn’t pay for Saint Peter’s,” a Power 5 athletic director told me. “They pay to see if Saint Peter’s can beat North Carolina.”

Therein lies the rub of one of the biggest sporting spectacles of the year. Even though the NCAA Tournament has become a rite of spring, it’s still a sport’s postseason — like it or not — fueled by parenthetical betting and the little guy beating the big guy.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

David versus Goliath in the tournament will sometimes result in a magical run from VCU or George Mason. Or give us Dunk City, Sister Jean or UMBC. Or produce Doug Edert and that stache.

The NCAA Tournament IS college basketball. There is no other way to see things.

The college basketball regular season isn’t exactly golden television property. It’s not because of a lack of drama or entertainment, but because of the glut of everyday games.

There is no product need and limited anticipation for rare elite games. But the networks continue to force-feed games — sometimes using broadcast crews sitting at home hundreds or thousands of miles from the field — and diluting the product because content is king in the winter months and of spring.

Then the conference tournaments begin and the NCAA field is confirmed – and the ownership of bulletproof television is unleashed. The unique nature of the tournament somewhat evens the playing field and develops heroes and legends.

Anything other than the current format will absolutely fail – for small conferences.

The Power Conferences could easily move forward with their own tournament that will still generate billions in TV revenue over the course of the contract — for the 50-60 teams in the new college football-based expansion.

For the nearly 300 remaining Division I basketball teams, it’s the death knell.

For now, the NCAA is in charge of all non-soccer championship tournaments. But the structure of the NCAA is changing, with a Transformation Committee working on a massive overhaul that may or may not affect the two elite playoff properties: the NCAA Tournament (men’s and women’s) and the College World Series ( baseball and softball).

If the top 50-60 schools pull out of the NCAA and have their own show – championships, TV, app – as some have argued, what becomes of the NCAA Tournament and the College World Series?

How are future television contracts negotiated and are all Division I teams still financially covered by a new contract?

“The easiest thing to say is that it’s standard operating procedure,” said a Power 5 athletic director. game. I don’t have to explain what happens when these two collide.

The NCAA Men’s Tournament keeps athletic departments alive, paying the bills for the majority of the more than 350 Division I teams. It’s not unlike the Power 5 football teams that play games against schools across the Group of 5 and FCS.

These rent-a-win games are million dollar deals that provide scholarships and higher education to so many players in so many sports.

That’s why Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher was adamant at SEC spring meetings when he said the conference couldn’t walk away from FCS games.

“We have to play a game (FCS),” Fisher said. “I come from this ball league. Many great coaches have done it. How do these schools budget? You have to make the wealth flow. If you don’t, and these schools have to close, where can these children play and get an education? »

A week before Saint Peter’s resounding loss to North Carolina in the Elite Eight, the Tar Heels beat defending national champion Baylor in the best game of the tournament. UNC lost a 25-point lead before winning in overtime.

The Saint-Pierre match, despite the searing defeat, was more poignant as it was David versus Goliath.

It wasn’t the best game, but it was the best television property.

And that might be enough to save the NCAA Tournament as we know it.

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