INDIANAPOLIS — The road to the Final Four will have a new look next season.
On Thursday, the NCAA's board of directors approved expansion from 65 to 68 teams and endorsed a proposal to add three more opening-round games to the schedule. It's only the second time in a quarter-century that the NCAA has increased the number of teams competing for the men's national championship.
Now it's time to start mapping out the details, which could include putting at-large teams in the early games.
"The (men's basketball) committee will have to study any variety of options and certainly the notion of looking at options involving the last at-large teams in would be one possible option," NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen told The Associated Press. "We would expect the committee to examine all of the options."
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The decision was not a surprise.
NCAA officials recommended the 68-team field last week after the public loudly complained that going to 80 or 96 teams would water down the NCAA's marquee event, and network executives insisted they did not need more tourney games to make a profit on the next television contract.
So the NCAA backed the most modest expansion, at least for now. The board gave unanimous consent to the 68-team field with a caveat — it wants the "play-in" games to have more significance.
"Expanding to 68 teams gave us an opportunity to involve more teams in the championship, and in doing that, we were able to enhance the experience of the opening-round game," Clemson president James Barker, the committee chairman, said in a statement.
It's the first time since 2001, when the NCAA added one team to the 64-team team field that it has expanded. The NCAA went from 48 to 64 teams in 1985.
More teams won't be the only change fans see next March.
Thanks to the new 14-year, $10.8 billion television package with CBS and Turner Broadcasting, also announced last week, fans can choose which games they want to watch. It will be the first time every tourney game will be televised live nationally. One game will be carried by CBS, with others carried on TNT, TBS and truTV.
It's a smaller overhaul than fans expected after NCAA officials spoke extensively about the format for a 96-team field four weeks ago, but it hasn't stopped the talk about additional expansion.
The new TV deal gives the NCAA sole authority to expand again,.
"Field size of any event is something people like to debate, but it's not something the committee is interested in taking on in the foreseeable future," Shaheen said.
Tourney expansion was only part of the board's busy schedule Thursday.
Other discussion topics on the board's agenda included the use of athletes' names, images and likenesses in commercial products; new rules for handling athlete concussions; and tougher academic standards for junior college transfers. The NCAA did not immediately give any indication of what the board did on those issues.