NCAA officials are considering two models for expanding the Division I men’s basketball tournament field, according to sources. The potential models include adding either four or eight teams, which would expand the current 68-team field to 72 or 76 teams. This expansion would introduce additional at-large selections and at least one more First Four site, with any changes set to begin in the 2025-26 season. Discussions about similar expansions for the women’s tournament are also likely.

Dan Gavitt, NCAA vice president for the men’s basketball championship, revealed these models during a presentation at the commissioners’ annual summer meeting. This presentation marked the culmination of months of work and highlighted the growing momentum for expanding the tournament, particularly among power conferences.

One key objective is to maintain the 28 small-conference automatic qualifiers, a concept that is popular with fans. This means additional spots would likely come from more at-large selections. The last major expansion in 2011 added four at-large teams and introduced the First Four, where two pairings of 16 seeds and two pairings of at-large selections compete in play-in games in Dayton, Ohio.

New expansions could introduce at least one additional First Four site, possibly in a Western time zone. However, expanding the tournament by even just four teams presents significant challenges. Officials plan to retain the current 64-team bracket, which means play-in game winners will need spots in that structure. This could result in more 10-12 seeds having to win play-in games on Tuesday or Wednesday to advance to the first round.

Officials face tough decisions, such as determining if more small-conference automatic qualifiers will be relegated to play-in games, a sensitive issue for commissioners of lower-resourced leagues. Another consideration is whether additional games will generate more revenue. CBS and Turner are not required to increase their payments under the current contract, according to those with knowledge of the deal.

Gavitt’s presentation is just one step in a lengthy approval process. Various groups will examine the expansion models over the summer and fall, including the NCAA Basketball Oversight Committee and the NCAA Basketball Selection Committee. The tournament is the NCAA’s largest revenue stream, distributing around $700 million annually to schools through a television deal with CBS and Turner that runs through 2032.

Power conferences, including the Big Ten, SEC, ACC, and Big 12, have publicly expressed a desire to expand the field of at-large selections to allow more of their schools to compete. In February, Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark told Yahoo Sports, “I want to see the best teams competing for a national championship, no different than [the Big Ten and SEC] want to see in football.” ACC commissioner Jim Phillips has called for a “holistic review” of the tournament, and SEC commissioner Greg Sankey has suggested expansion multiple times over the past two years.

Tournament expansion is not new. The field has grown several times since 1975, when it expanded to 32 teams. It increased to 40 teams in 1979, 48 in 1980, 64 in 1985, 65 in 2001, and finally to 68 in 2011. The upcoming decisions will shape the future of what is widely known as the most popular event in college athletics and American sports.



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