Should the NCAA Tournaments in men's and women's basketball ever expand again, the Division I Transformation Committee will be remembered as the catalyst.
In recent weeks, the committee has been informally tossing out a potential philosophical change to how some NCAA postseason tournaments could be configured, sources told CBS Sports. In Chicago last week, committee co-chairs Julie Cromer (Ohio athletic director) and Greg Sankey (SEC commissioner) put forth to the other 31 commissioners representing the Conference Commissioners Association -- in person and for the first time -- one tangible rule change still in a rudimentary stage.
The committee is putting an idea on the table that all Division I sports could allow as much as 25% of a sport's teams to be able to qualify for said sport's NCAA bracket. In layman's terms -- and at its extreme -- this would mean college basketball's 363-school population could one day, theoretically, allow for as many as 90 teams in March Madness.
While basketball is inevitably going to receive the most scrutiny and attention on a talking point like this, sources stressed that this possible future rule change might be there to uplift sports such as baseball, lacrosse or soccer. At this stage, the appetite for "significant" expansion of basketball's NCAA Tournament is minimal, according to a variety of NCAA sources.
"They've thrown the concept out there for the commissioners to consider and go back to their ADs," one league commissioner told CBS Sports. "At this point they're talking about baseball, they're talking about all [sports], it's not just a basketball conversation. But everyone knows basketball will be the thing that moves the needle the most."
"Sankey was frustrated with how baseball went this past year," one source said, referencing the selection and seeding process in the NCAA baseball tournament.
When pressed about the topic of any type of NCAA Tournament expansion, a source told CBS Sports, "I think it's a little too soon. The concept is open for discussion."
That belief was shared by four conference commissioners who spoke on background to CBS Sports. The topic is a tender one as NCAA stakeholders are also aware that expansion of a 68-team tournament could be met with backlash, especially for a sport that already faces an uphill climb for regular-season urgency and national relevance.
"The NCAA basketball tournament is absolutely critical to college athletics," another league commissioner said." It's one of the most unique sporting events in the world. Its value to the enterprise of college athletics is critical. The structure we have right now, it works, it's a winner, people love it and I would hope we would not overly tinker."
This 25% concept was available for discussion this week in Indianapolis for the men's and women's basketball oversight committees, but it went unaddressed, per one source. Another group that could broach the topic is the men's basketball selection committee, which met Wednesday afternoon over Zoom, its first meeting with all members since the summer. The committee will meet in person again at the end of the month in Houston, site of the 2023 men's Final Four.
The possibility of expanding March Madness years down the road has loomed in the air all offseason, though it was previously attached to the notion that some one-bid leagues might not keep their automatic-qualifier status in a reformed NCAA Tournament. While those concerns still exist, they aren't as heavy at the moment as they were earlier in the summer, a source said.
"Too soon to say if AQs will be protected, but I think that's the intent," one commissioner in the room in Chicago told CBS Sports. [It was a] very good conversation. Everyone's sharing thoughts and concepts. I don't think there was much angst relative to bracket expansion. It's all going back to the individual sport committees. To say basketball's going to go to 88 [or 90] is not the feeling in the room at this point. It's really going to be what's best for the sport and make those recommendations back to the Transformation Committee. ... Does it make better sense in basketball to go to 70 or 72? Are we really missing out on 20 additional basketball programs that should've been in? No."
While the Transformation Committee is the group charged with putting forth recommendations amid a time of huge change across Division I athletics, it's the sport-specific committees that will be tasked with the decision whether or not to take those recommendations in the months to come. Factors such as money, TV, student welfare, logistics, NCAA capacity with staffing and other needs all have to be addressed.
"I wouldn't even say everyone is for it," another commissioner told CBS Sports. "It's not a done deal. It's something the Transformation Committee has discussed. Nothing is finite because we don't even know if Turner is going to pay for [an expanded tournament]."
The issue of possible tournament expansion across all Division I sports is tied to the broader issue that is the Transformation Committee's main charge: identifying what it means to qualify as a Division I institution moving forward. That has loomed over the NCAA for months. The committee had an initial end date of finishing its business by August. Now that has been pushed back to the end of December. Yet there still has not been detailed path put forth laying out a new masterplan for D-I.
"This entire transformation process has become more extended than we all thought," one source said. "It was by August, now the plan is for it to be disbanded in December, but the reality of it is that's 12 weeks away. There's just too many outstanding things for all the work to be completed by then."
The Transformation Committee met with the D-I Council Tuesday and Wednesday and largely presented similarly vague concepts and updates as it did with the CCA in Chicago last week.
"There's been a lot of frustration that there's no membership standards or expectations -- that we don't know for sure what being a future D-I member is going to be," a commissioner told CBS Sports.
Another commissioner of a one-bid league expressed vexation over how long this rollout of change is taking.
"The committee is focused on things like bracket expansion, taking a recommendation all sports go to 25% of their current membership," he said. "But I'm more worried at the moment about membership requirements to know if I'll ever have certain members in my conference."
Said another source of trying to govern all D-I sports under the same set of rules: "We are too large."
The D-I Board of Directors is expecting something from the Transformation Committee on membership expectations by the end of October. That is a long-awaited document that could be the next piece that finally helps push the NCAA into a new era.