'First Four' added to NCAA men's tourney

By Ken Tysiac/The Charlotte Observer (MCT)

Cramming 68 men’s basketball teams into a tournament bracket that’s ideally suited for 64 teams was bound to be complicated.
The NCAA – whose Division I bylaw manual for 2009-10 takes up 419 pages – has a new format for its Division I men’s basketball tournament, which was announced Monday in a news release.
It took four pages to explain the new plan.
And sure enough, the 68-team field created by the Division I men’s basketball committee features an unusual configuration. It has a catchy new slogan (“the First Four”) for the four new first-round games that should play well on TV as the NCAA embarks on its new 14-year contract with CBS and Turner Broadcasting.
(The games will be seen on a Turner cable channel, TruTV.)
But when you look at which teams will play in those first four games, it gets complicated. Two of the games will feature the teams rated 65 through 68 in the field, which will go on to face No. 1 seeds in the second round.
The two other first-round games will feature the last four at-large teams selected for a field that includes 31 automatic bids and 37 at-large bids. The at-large, first-round teams will occupy the seed line where they would normally have been placed in a bracket in the past.
For example, one first-round game might feature two No. 11 seeds and the other could have two No. 12 seeds. The winners would advance in the second round to face their proper seeds in the bracket, with No. 11 playing a No. 6 seed and No. 12 playing a No. 5.
The schedule and location of the first-round games will be announced at a later date. Teams in the new brackets will continue to be assigned to the closest geographic location while avoiding regular season rematches and conference opponents.
Second- and third-round games will be played Thursday through Sunday – March 17-20 in 2011. The Final Four is set for April 2-4 at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
Modest expansion
In April, the Division I men’s basketball committee was charged with creating a new format for the tournament after it was decided that the tournament would expand to 68 teams from 65.
“With the new bracket essentially featuring four additional at-large teams, the committee determined it was appropriate to have the teams play in the first round,” Dan Guerrero, the UCLA athletic directory and 2009-10 committee chair, said in a statement. “We believe this format provides an extraordinary opportunity for the championship’s first-round games to be quality match-ups as March Madness begins.”
The tourney has featured 65 teams and one first-round game since 2001. From 1985 to 2000, the field had 64 teams.
The expansion to 68 announced in April came in part as a response to a significant number of coaches who said the 65-team field wasn’t large enough to reward an appropriate number of teams for their successful seasons.