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‘It is the biggest sporting event in existence’

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament has long been considered one of the most unique sporting events in the U.S., although there is still talk of a potential field expansion.

NCAA President Charlie Baker told ESPN in February that he thinks there is an opportunity to expand the NCAA Tournament beyond the current 68-team format, “if it is done thoughtfully.” Baker added that the NCAA basketball committee has been discussing the idea since last summer.

Add to that the fact that Baker and the NCAA have reportedly agreed to a multi-billion dollar deal to settle three antitrust lawsuits, and March Madness could look very different in the near future. As part of the settlement, the NCAA will allow schools to pay their student-athletes directly under a new revenue sharing model that will reportedly take effect in 2025. The revenue sharing model could create an even bigger divide between the power conferences and the non-football conferences like the West Coast Conference.

Mark Few, who has been to the NCAA tournament every season since 1999 as head coach of the Gonzaga Bulldogs, described the first two weeks of the postseason as “the biggest sporting event there is.” As such, he was unwilling to endorse expansion, fearing it would diminish the value of the regular season.

“You don’t want to shorten the regular season,” Few told Gonzaga Nation. “I understand what some thought processes are. There is a great deal of parity taking place. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to choose maybe the 68 (teams). But at the same time if you go through the charade, well here’s who would have gotten in if we had gone to 96, it wouldn’t make the regular season nearly as important and probably not watched very often.

Few, who is 43-24 in the NCAA Tournament and coming off its ninth consecutive Sweet 16 appearance, have expressed great appreciation for the NCAA Tournament and its uniqueness during Gonzaga’s postseason success. Perhaps even more so than ever before, given where the Zags found themselves at the start of the 2023-2024 season.

“It’s such a blessing to be involved in (the NCAA Tournament),” Few said on Selection Sunday after Gonzaga earned a No. 5 seed in the 2024 NCAA Tournament. “Everyone tends to view it as to be taken for granted. I get people running up to me: ‘I can’t wait for March Madness’ – they tell me that in July. I’m like, ‘No, you have to earn your way into it, you can’t just get into it.’ Obviously there were times this year where it didn’t seem like it was going to happen, so… hopefully that was a good way to get us back on track and really, really appreciate moments like this and be involved in the biggest sport. event that I believe exists.”

With discussions about expansion or a new format likely to continue in the future, few will continue to hear the other side of the argument.

“I really want to listen to the side for expansion and be open to that,” Few said. “But I don’t really feel like jumping in completely.”

Few shared his thoughts on the future of the NCAA Tournament, what it’s like to watch former Zags play in the NBA Playoffs and much more on a new episode of Gonzaga Nation.

WATCH THE FULL EPISODE

Created by Thomas Gallagher.

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