March Madness seems to get bigger and better each year. With 68 teams, 67 games and countless upsets, it really is a basketball fan’s dream.
Between the three weeks of thrilling chaos and inevitable snubs of Selection Sunday, there’s always rumblings of expanding the tournament for more teams and more games.
Expansion is in the nature of the tournament. In 2001, the tournament expanded from 64 to 65. Ten years later, the NCAA officially rounded out the play-in round by adding three more teams, bringing the total to 68. That said, the most frequently cited number of 90 teams as a potential goal for expansion is a massive jump from recent years.
But why stop at 90? What if every single Division I basketball team had a chance in the Big Dance?
Here’s a look at what an expanded March Madness bracket featuring all eligible teams would look like:
How many Division I basketball teams are eligible?
Of the 363 Division I basketball programs, 352 of them are eligible for postseason competitions. The reason for the exclusion of these 11 teams might come as a surprise.
Why are some teams not eligible?
There are a variety of reasons why teams might not be eligible for postseason consideration including corruption-related bans by the NCAA and conferences punishing departing members.
However, neither of those are at play in 2023.
All of the ineligible schools fall in the category of former Division II programs completing their obligatory four-year transition period, a decades-old rule that requires teams moving up to abstain from competing for championships during their first four years as a Division I program.
The 11 schools that fall in this category are: Bellarmine, Lindenwood, Merrimack, Queens, Southern Indiana, Stonehill, St. Thomas, Tarleton State, UC San Diego, Utah Tech and Texas A&M-Commerce.
Unsurprisingly, the rule is controversial, with many alleging it’s antiquated and unfair to essentially fate an entire class to four years without postseason eligibility for no wrongdoing. Earlier this week, Merrimack topped Fairleigh Dickinson to claim the Northeast Conference Tournament title but will have to wait until next year for a chance to compete in March Madness.
How many venues would be needed for a 352-team bracket?
The current bracket requires 14 venues for 68 teams. Applying that same ratio, the 352-team bracket would need 73 venues.
With the exception of the Final Four, which will take place at the NRG Stadium, home of the Houston Texans, the majority of March Madness is held in smaller arenas, many of which host NBA and NHL teams. The smallest venue of this year’s men’s tournament is Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. With a maximum capacity of 16,100, it’s the 62nd-largest indoor arena in the U.S.
The expanded tournament would likely require all 61 other venues and more to get involved in hosting the 351 possible games. Who knows? Your local college gym might even score a first-round matchup in this fictional world.
How long would a 352-team tournament last?
March Madness already feels like a marathon with 68 teams, stretching nearly three weeks, 352 teams is almost unimaginable.
Even at 10 games a day, a 351-game tournament would run over 36 days.
How many upsets would there be in a 352-team tournament?
Based on the current average of 13 upsets a year, the expanded bracket would include approximately 60 upsets.