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What if the NCAA Tournament gave out bids like the World Cup?

Offseason-y stuff, for offseasons (naturally).

Brazil v Paraguay - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Qualifier Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images

The ACC took some heat during the NCAA Tournament for a high number of teams getting invites, but a low number making the Sweet 16. That didn’t much matter since North Carolina won it all anyway. But at least we got to laugh at the “overrated” opinions in hindsight (especially since the league’s taken home $100 million from the last three tournaments alone).

It did get me thinking about other ways for the NCAA Tournament to hand out bids, however.

Just a week ago, FIFA unveiled the new allocations they’ll use for a 48-team World Cup in 2026. Meanwhile, the United States will propose a joint bid to host that World Cup, along with neighbors Mexico and Canada.

For those unfamiliar, the World Cup hands out a certain amount of bids to each continental federation in advance, and then each handles the qualifying portion for those spots. That allotment is typically decided upon by the size and strength of each federation, though the new allotment certainly trends more toward a varied field than anything else.

So what if the NCAA Tournament simply gave out its own bids the same way the World Cup does?

Conceivably, you could use the NCAA’s pre-existing win credits system to determine how those bids are handed out, and then adjust every five years or so to make sure you’re still rewarding the top conferences with more bids. We could figure out the next five years’ allotments by adding the credits from 2013-17.

So for the 2018 through 2022 tournaments, the allotted bids could look something like this (leagues with multiple bids only listed below):

  • ACC (8)
  • Big 10 (8)
  • Big 12 (6)
  • Pac-12 (6)
  • SEC (5)
  • Big East (4)
  • AAC (3)
  • A-10 (2)
  • MVC (2)
  • WCC (2)

Every other conference (the other 22) gets one apiece.

NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal - Villanova v Oklahoma Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

A model like this could potentially encourage conferences to actually put their best team forward in the pursuit of more victories (and credits). Right now, the money that comes from the NCAA Tournament wins hasn’t been enough to get leagues to abandon conference tournaments. The Ivy League even went ahead and added one this year, after avoiding it for a very long time.

But especially for the top conferences, with a strict cap on the amount of bids available, it could push them to devise new and more interesting ways to make sure the best squads get to the NCAAs, to earn more credits (and thus, increase the available bids).

Whether that would mean less teams in the conference tournaments, or allowing the top four to be exempt from those events, there are plenty of ways that the ACC and other leagues can prioritize the best squads.

Is this a perfect solution? Hardly. But it’s tough to pretend that the current one is either for the NCAA Tournament. Putting a premium on the best teams getting invites could potentially push the overall quality of the field up, and even encourage mid-tier leagues to invest in further strength and development.

But what do you think? If you disagree with the idea, perhaps there are other solutions we can talk through below.