Rick Byrd believes in tradition. Belmont’s basketball coach also understands symmetry.
Thus he figures the latter trumped the former when the recommendation was made earlier this week to expand the NCAA basketball tournament to 68 teams.
“I guess the 68 just makes it more mathematically pleasing,” he said.
Details of the plan, which will be reviewed by the Division I Board of Directors at its meeting next Thursday, have not been revealed. Presumably the concept of the ‘play-in game’ between the bottom two teams will be expanded to include the bottom eight. The four winners of those games then would advance to face the No. 1 seeds.
“I feel like there’s just a difference between being in a play-in game and actually being in the field of 64,” Byrd said. “Now, I guess you’ll be able to say you’ve won an NCAA tournament game if you win one of those (four) play-in games, but that’s not quite the same as winning a regular NCAA tournament game.”
The recommendation for the expanded field was made in conjunction with Wednesday’s announcement  of a new 14-year television deal for tournament. That deal included a new broadcast strategy in which every game will be televised live over an array of networks.
Speculation in recent weeks was that the NCAA field would be expanded to 96 teams.
“Obviously, it’s a great event,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “I think there have been people who have challenged and been negative every time they’ve ever expanded, and as we currently know it it’s an awesome event.
“But every time they’ve expanded it’s gotten better and more interesting.”
The new television contract and the expanded field – assuming it’s approved – go into effect with the 2011 tournament.
The most recent expansion came in 2001, when the field grew from 64 to 65 teams and the play-in game was created.
“If they had gone to 96 teams … in general most of those spots would have gone to sixth, seventh and eighth-place teams from the major conferences,” Byrd said. “Now the three teams that were closest but didn’t get in will get in
“I guess it just makes it all the more likely that the team from the Atlantic Sun or the Ohio Valley Conference or the Big South – there’s any number of conferences we could talk about – will be involved in a play-in game.”