* The following commentary appeared recently in the Hotline newsletter and has been republished (and updated) here for readers who missed the original …
The ACC believes March Madness, which grew by four teams not long ago, remains too small.
To rectify the problem, the most powerful conference in college basketball wants to expand the 68-team NCAA Tournament to a field of 72.
ACC commissioner John Swofford made the case last week that two First Fours would be better than one and suggested planting a second version in the western half of the country.
For west coast participants, he noted, the Tuesday/Wednesday dates in Dayton create a challenging turnaround.
Regardless of the packaging, any push for tournament expansion by the conferences is rooted in the desire to create more at-large berths — berths that generate cash for the schools and job security for the coaches.
The proposal wasn’t well received within the college basketball media community.
Reactions deemed the idea “self-serving” and noted that the coaches typically place their own interest above what’s best for the game. What’s more, the ACC’s proposal took attention away from better suggestions of its own.
The Hotline is against expansion. Adding games prior to the Thursday of the first round — the real start of the tournament — merely dilutes the overall product. Increase to 72 participants, and No. 73 will start whining immediately.
But if the ACC proposal is eventually adopted, the Pac-12 should push for Salt Lake City to become the western version of Dayton as a permanent site for First Four games:
* It’s an easy flight from the west coast but also serves teams coming from the middle third of the country, with non-stops from major hubs and an airport that’s close to downtown.
(The distance from Salt Lake City to San Francisco is comparable to that of Dayton to New York City.)
* Vivint Arena, home of the Jazz, has played host to March Madness three times, with a fourth appearance scheduled for next spring. It’s plenty worthy of the event.
* The support for college basketball within Salt Lake City is as strong as anywhere this side of Lawrence, Kan. Seats would be filled regardless of the teams involved.
From a broader view, permanently placing the First Four in Salt Lake City would bring ancillary benefits for Pac-12 basketball, elevating the presence of March Madness within its footprint.
If the opportunity presents, the conference should make an overt, or back-channel, push for Vivint.
I can think of only one drawback:
The Salt Lake City community and University of Utah officials clearly value the round of 64, which brings eight teams and thousands of fans to town.
Would the First Four prevent Vivint from being involved in the site rotation for the first weekend? Certainly, the logistics would have to be well planned.
The facility couldn’t host the First Four on Wednesday and the first round on Thursday — it would always have to be a Friday-Sunday site.
There would be challenges from a personnel standpoint, as well, with the workload effectively doubled for the Utah athletic department, which typically serves as the host for March Madness events.
The Utes would have to be allocated the resources to increase the event staff.
But those issues shouldn’t be insurmountable. If the tournament grows to 72 and the need for a western version of Dayton surfaces, Salt Lake City is, by far, the best option.
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