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NCAA Tournament Expansion Format Announced

The setup for the new, 68 team NCAA basketball tournament was made public yesterday.

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The final four at-large teams and final four automatic qualifiers in the newly minted 68-team NCAA men's basketball tournament field will meet for the right to enter the traditional 64-team draw, tournament selection committee chairman Dan Guerrero announced Monday.

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The "First Four" will be played either the Tuesday or Wednesday after Selection Sunday. The winners of the four games will advance to what will now be called the "second round" on either Thursday or Friday. The newly named third round -- with 16 games -- will be Saturday and Sunday. The rest of the tournament -- regional semifinals (Sweet 16) and regional finals (Elite Eight) -- will remain as they have been, as will the Final Four, which is set for Houston in 2011.

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The games will be televised on TruTv (formerly CourtTV), which is available in 93 million homes, said NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen, who manages the NCAA tournament. CBS, Turner, TBS and TruTV are in their first year of a $10.8 billion, 14-year television agreement. ESPN had carried the tournament's opening-round game in previous years.

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In terms of changes to the March Madness many have come to know and love, they should be subtle and hardly noticeable.

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The "Cinderella" mid-major teams, or at least the ones with a real shot at winning anything, will be safely in the field of 64 as only the lowest four seeded automatic qualifiers will be forced to play in the opening round games. The new format also brings in the added revenue of a few more bigger name "at-large" schools without compromising the structure of the tournament that has become very popular.

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The only real downside of  the announcement is the idea of the highest level of NCAA basketball being played on an obscure niche cable channel. The NCAA could be going into NHL/Versus territory with this decision

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Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.