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NCAA considered 16-team tournament

There could have been a sized-down Big Dance.

Coronavirus Cases Causes Johns Hopkins To Ban Fans At NCAA Division III Basketball Tournament Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

With the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament, college basketball was robbed of it’s main event due to the coronavirus pandemic. After much deliberation, a total cancellation of the event was announced this week rather than just a postponement for a later date.

Organizers considered a new plan, though, that would have included a 16-team tournament that took place over the course of one weekend.

The main idea of the concept was for a committee to select their top 16 teams in the country regardless of their conference and have them play their own tournament. The first three rounds would have been played between Thursday and Saturday while the championship game would have been played on Monday night.

Dan Gavitt, NCAA Vice President of men’s basketball, said that he believed “eight or nine” of Division I’s 32 conferences would have been represented in the 16-team field.

“Far from ideal. Far from perfect. Imperfect as it may be, that was one of the only reasonable options we thought we could at least maintain some level of our tournaments There was a real concern about not being inclusive enough, with only 16 teams,” said Gavitt.

At the end of the day, the tournament was cancelled altogether. After Utah Jazz stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell tested positive in the NBA, that seemed to be the nail in March Madness’ coffin.

“The other thing that was in play at that point in committee members’ minds, and we saw this play out at conference tournaments, once an NBA player was infected, I think it started to really hit home for the players, from what I’ve heard from coaches by text message and anecdotally,” said Gavitt.

It would have been interesting to see how they would have determined the 16-team field. Would they have just taken the top four projected seeds from each region in the original bracket? Would they have based it off something else like the AP Poll or NET Rankings? It also would have been fascinating to see how Kentucky would have fared in this version of the tournament had they been selected.

As much fun as taking who’s considered to be the best 16 teams in the country and putting them in their own tournament would have been, the true beauty of March comes in the Cinderella stories. To take only just a little over 23% of the whole field would be to cut out the small schools who always make the tournament special in its own way every year.

Skipping right to the Sweet 16 with some of the best teams the country has to offer would have been amazing, but having no tournament at all very quickly became the best option they had. Even with March Madness being as beloved as it is, everyone erring on the side of caution during this time might be the right call when we all look back on it in years to com.