Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren believes expanding the NCAA basketball tournaments is one of the “things we have to look at.” The comments, made in an interview Wednesday from the conference’s media days in Minneapolis, are the latest in a push by top college sports administrators to discuss expanding the field from the current 68-team format in men’s and women’s basketball. .
In August, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said Sports IllustratedPat Ford said he wants to “take a fresh look” at the tournament and cited examples of lowly sports like UCLA, VCU and Syracuse making runs as a reason for an extended postseason. Earlier Wednesday, ACC commissioner Jim Phillips said he was “in favor of looking at it” and went so far as to say he would “really like us to expand.” There was even fear from administrators at mid- and low-ranked schools that the tournament could be changed to no longer include automatic bids for all conference champions.
Warren has an interesting perspective on auto deals. The former Penn and Grand Canyon college basketball player played in the 1982 NCAA Tournament, thanks to Penn receiving an automatic bid by winning the Ivy League. And while he’s just “starting to think about these issues,” he sounded sympathetic to maintaining a similar autobid structure.
“I think there’s a place in postseason basketball to make sure there’s some equity in access and opportunity to compete for a championship,” Warren says. “Sometimes those upsets are really what make March Madness March Madness.”
Warren’s press conference Tuesday echoed a similar refrain to messages he shared this summer before the football season, positioning the Big Ten as an innovator that will “never follow the status quo.” When asked how that view fit with potential changes to March Madness, one of the iconic events in American sports, Warren was clearly open to change.
“I want this next year, these next two years, to ask, Why; Why do we do this? Why did we do this? Because so many times I’ve seen people say, ‘Well, that’s because we’ve always done it this way,’” says Warren. “If we can provide [college athletes] with unique opportunities and experiences, to be able to travel, learn, meet new people [and] I’m competing for championships, then I’m very interested.”
The Big Ten had a transformative year, one that included the additions of USC and UCLA starting in the 2024-25 season and the signing of a new television deal that “resets the bar for what universities can do in media rights them”, as Ford wrote at the time. Warren’s tenure as commissioner has been marked by sweeping changes, from the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic to major rule changes regarding the NIL to realignment, television deals and the expansion of the College Football Playoff.
“I feel like I’m going on dry land for once since I’ve been here,” says Warren.
The integration of USC and UCLA Joining the Big Ten along with its new media partners is clearly the league’s priority, and Warren tempered expectations of future conference expansion Tuesday, noting the league will “always keep that in mind.” The logistical challenges associated with adding the two West Coast schools, particularly in sports other than football that play more regularly than once a week, are still being considered.
“We’ve got a lot of inclusion committees internally that we’ve formed and we’re starting to work on multiple ideas for programming,” says Warren. “What can you take from a multi-team event, what’s the location, the timing, the academic element of it, the health and safety of our student-athletes, so that’s really where we’re looking right now over the next couple of months . “
The league is also focused on preparing for its new media rights partnerships, and Warren highlighted one aspect of the negotiations that was non-negotiable: getting the Big Ten women’s basketball championship on linear television.
“I’m so proud that CBS took it on, and it was one of the first topics even in our first meeting in terms of being a potential partner,” says Warren. “I didn’t want this on a secondary channel. I wasn’t going to allow it. So now, knowing that in the future CBS will have our men’s and women’s basketball championship games on CBS is really powerful.”
It’s the latest move by the conference to promote parity between men’s and women’s basketball, a Warren priority that has become a major issue since results from the 2021 NCAA tournaments featured wide disparities in treatment between the men’s and women’s games. of women. The league has brought the men’s and women’s players to the same media day in the same venue in back-to-back years, and Warren is still open to further moves, such as combining the two conference tournaments.
“I’d love to get to the point one day where maybe we could start combining our tournaments, possibly,” says Warren. “I don’t know if that’s possible, there’s a lot of work to be done, but I’m always thinking about how we can level the platform.”
Warren also pleaded once again for Congress to intervene in federal NIL legislation. “Hopefully there will be federal legislation. Hopefully they care about the student-athletes and know something needs to be done. NIL was good! It’s benefited our student-athletes, but I think it could benefit them even more if there was some order and some structure to it.”
Even with things like the league’s new media rights deal and major overhaul moving somewhat into the rearview mirror, Warren still finds himself and his conference at the center of a rapidly changing industry. Talk of changing March Madness is just the latest point of contact, and for once, Warren and Sankey may be on the same page.
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