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Who benefits, exactly, from tournament expansions?

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Who benefits, exactly, from tournament expansions?

I'm working my way through a few other reported stories, so while we're waiting, I thought today might be a good day to answer some questions from the ol' DMs, inbox and Twitter mentions. I take mailbag questions on a rolling basis, so if you have a story idea or something you'd like me to riff on, drop me a line at [email protected], or at @MattBrownEP. I'm probably more likely to respond to a DM than a tweet, but you never know!

Here's a good question that's better for a newsletter than a Twitter response:

So on some level, any kind of tournament expansion (basketball, lacrosse, softball, whatever) is usually more supported by coaches than administrators. More tournament slots means more tournament bids, which is something coaches can sell on the recruiting trail, sell to their athletic directors and boosters, and sell to prospective assistants. Postseason appearances help job security, even if eventually expanded brackets lead to expectation inflation.

But the extent that administrators in other leagues support expansion depends an awful lot on how those teams are selected. When chatting with ADs and conference leaders for my story on baseball expansion, lots of folks raised the concern about continuing to rely on the RPI for tournament selection. If mid-major leaders think that the metrics used to select teams mean that seven of eight new postseason slots go to SEC and ACC teams, well, they probably won't want to do it.

The financial component is also more complicated in practice. For the basketball tournament, there is an assumption that even a small increase in tournament size would lead to an increase in television rights fees. But increased brackets also lead to increased costs. If increased revenue is only distributed via unit payouts, and only high-major programs qualify for the units, it's going to be harder to get people at the MAAC or Big South onboard. Nobody wants to mess with their schedule only to transfer even more wealth to the proverbial big guys.

I think the way to make these sorts of proposals more politically possible is for tournament expansion to touch multiple sports (so more mid and even low-major leagues can find at least one sport where they'll enjoy meaningful increases in tournament accessibility), and so that the costs and benefits are more evenly distributed...and that every postseason game can enjoy the same quality "experience" as the semifinals or finals.

In practice, the little details matter...who pays for what, who earns what, and who gets selected for what...just as much as "how big do we make the bracket" type questions.

Practically speaking? It's transcription, easily. I try to record as many conversations as I can, because I'm less of an active listener if I'm trying to scribble notes, and it helps ensure that I am quoting accurately. But even if I use software like Otter to do most of the hard work for me, there's still a lot of tedious cleanup...deleting the ums, ands, and misspelled words, and mining a 6,000 word transcript for the three quotes that I need. If I am goofing off on Twitter a lot, there's a decent chance I'm procrastinating from some transcription.

The other tricky thing for me, since I am writing something nearly every day, is that there is so much phone tag for my reporting. Even for sources where I have a relationship, it's kinda rare that I can just call or text somebody and get an instant response. For folks where I don't, there's a lot of going back and forth, or going through SIDs/Associate ADs/Agents, and there's often a 48 hour or more lag time between a question and an answer. FOIAs can take months as well.

In practice, this means I am usually working on at least four different Extra Points newsletters at once, which is not always an easy juggling maneuver. Chances are, if I talked to multiple ADs or industry people for a story, I probably tried to talk to three times that many first. That's the gig!

Still...this all sure beats working for a living!

In my experience, this is often more of a concern for ADs than money being redirected away from capital campaigns or other giving projects. Every school and every market is different, but from the folks I talk to the most, I hear more about NIL money coming from people that weren't previously donating, rather than pulling money from project X to collective Y.

Still, if you have a third party that controls a massive fund that is heavily tied to the recruitment and retention of athletes...you now have a shadow general manager, only that one isn't beholden to the school, the coaching staff, or anything else. That has the potential to be a big problem, and I don't mind sharing that even at some pretty big P5 programs, the top school leaders and the folks running the big collectives are not on the same page.

Generally speaking, I think athletic directors do a better job of running athletic departments than boosters, and places where boosters tend to have outsized control over hiring and strategic decisions are places that tend more towards instability and poor governance. The AD/Coach/NIL collective dynamic certainly has the potential to make that worse in markets where those struggles are already part of the job.

On a related note, I'd also watch for markets where there are like, five different collectives running. It's one thing if you have multiple collectives trying to serve different teams or different parts of the market. But a lot of the time, when you see multiple collectives, it's because a few boosters are having a public argument over whose peepee is the biggest.

Not good policy imo.

I'm assuming this is about playing ten conference games, given the context here.

I don't have reason to think that ten is super likely in the short term, but there are a few potential reasons why you'd do it.

Money, of course, is the biggest. There's money from broadcast partners, since more conference games means more inventory featuring Ohio State, Alabama, Michigan and Texas.

But there's also potentially more money from ticket sales, parking, and game-day revenue. It's easier for schools to sell tickets against the Ohio States of the world than it is for a generic OOC game against a MAC or Sun Belt squad. As growing gameday revenue becomes harder for more and more schools, and as the Big Ten and SEC balloon in membership, playing lots of conference games is potentially one way to keep the gameday revenue coming, maintain historical rivalries, and integrate new members.

Of course, the math isn't that simple. Moving to ten conference games means that means that many schools might only get to play seven home games a season. It's possible that increased broadcast and gameday revenue wouldn't be enough to offset lost revenue from another home game, even if that home game would have been against Western Kentucky. And then, to your point, there are also concerns about 'beating each other up' too much to maximize the number of teams in the Playoff field.

I'm not sure if there is a bigger injury risk in playing Florida or Florida International, to be honest. It's still tackle football, after all. But maybe I'm wrong.

I think all power conferences eventually moving to nine games is more likely in the immediate term than going to ten, but I haven't seen all the potential TV math or playoff game theory, and perhaps there is a future world where ten makes sense.

Other questions can be sent to [email protected]. Once I have enough, I'll do another mailbag.

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Who benefits, exactly, from tournament expansions?

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