Basketball: NCAA unveils new 68-team format — it’s a bit complicated, but not bad

The NCAA today announced details on the new 68-team NCAA Tournament format, and it’s a nice compromise with a bit of flair.

Beginning in 2011 — this coming season — the four “play-in” games will be called the “First Four,” and they will involve an interesting mix of teams.

Two of the games will feature the four lowest-seeded at-large entries, which previously were not publicly announced. These four will play in two games for seeding spots in the 64-team bracket that are appropriate for their level of accomplishment. In other words, two of them could face off for the chance to become a No. 10 seed in the main bracket, two others could play for a No. 12 seed.

The remaining two games among the “First Four,” which will be contested on the Tuesday and Wednesday following Selection Sunday, will involve the four lowest-seeded conference champions who earned automatic bids. They will vie for two spots as No. 16 seeds in the main draw.

It’s an unexpected but welcome compromisse that means the three at-large teams added to the field, which previously was 65 teams, won’t simply jump ahead of all the mid-major automatic bids. The idea was if you’re a team from a major conference but weren’t good enough to earn a spot in the old 65-team format, perhaps you need to do a little extra work to get into the 64-team bracket. Seems fair. Impressive that the NCAA not only thought of it, but went with it. 

I like it. Expanding was unnecesary, but as we all know, it’s inevitable as long as someone sees a means to generate more revenue. Games in the “First Four” will be televised over TruTV (formerly CourtTV), which the NCAA says is avilable in 93 million homes (including mine, hooray!).

Here’s more from ESPN.com.

Jeff Faraudo