BYU’s Mark Pope Weighs In On Potential NCAA Tournament Expansion

Oct 24, 2022, 11:45 PM | Updated: 11:48 pm
NCAA Tournament, BYU Basketball, Mark Pope...
BYU basketball coach Mark Pope weighed in on the thought of an expanded NCAA Tournament field. (Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)
(Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

PROVO, Utah – It hasn’t drawn many national headlines yet, but the NCAA Tournament could expand beyond 68 teams. Despite the lack of national conversation, there has been a lot of chatter about this possibility within the college basketball community.

The idea of changing the Big Dance brings strong opinions.

ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips said last week at ACC Media Day that it’s time to look at expanding the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments. Likewise, Baylor coach Scott Drew told ESPN he’d like to see the Big Dance expanded to 128 teams.

Soon, BYU basketball coach Mark Pope and his program will be in the same league as Drew in the Big 12 Conference. But, even though BYU will join the toughest basketball league in America, the expectations at BYU will remain high for Pope.

Those expectations will continue to include the hopes of earning NCAA Tournament bids. Building on the 30 NCAA Tournament bids BYU has earned dating back to 1950.

Pope knows the magic of March firsthand from his days as a National Champion big man on Rick Pitino’s loaded Kentucky squad in 1996. He’s also guided BYU to an NCAA Tournament bid in 2021 and 2020 if COVID-19 didn’t take it away from everyone.

So what does Pope think of the possibilities of an expanded March Madness field?

Mark Pope isn’t opposed to an expanded NCAA Tournament

“I don’t know. But I will tell you this; it seems to me in our history of expansion, we always think that there’s always this pull to keep it the same. And you think, ‘oh, expansion is going to ruin the product, it’s going to hurt the league, it’s going to be a financial drain, it’s going to dilute everything,’ and it seems like that never actually happens,” Pope said to KSL Sports.

Pope continued, “It’s kind of like the stock market. Like, the stock market is going to have some dips and turns, but you know what? Every year there’s no way the stock market can go higher, and then you know what, five years later, you’re like, ‘oh my gosh, the stock market is a lot higher.’ So I don’t know how it’s going to work out. I don’t really have a say in it. But I’m not scared of it growing because I think when we grow things, things improve.”

Big 12 will give BYU a margin for error to reach March Madness

Having the NCAA Tournament jump to 128 teams would probably be good for Pope and BYU. Being in the Big 12, BYU will play 18 conference games in the first two years, while Texas and Oklahoma remain in the league. Most of those league games will end up as “Quad 1” games. The NCAA Selection Committee loves to see that tier of games when sizing up resumes to place a potential at-large team into the field.

An expanded 128-team or even 90-team field would expand that margin for error for BYU to find its way into the dance. We’ve seen that already with the 68-team field. Big 12 teams with losing conference records can still get into the Big Dance. Last year, Iowa State finished 7-11 in the Big 12 but still earned an at-large bid to the NCAAs and advanced to the Sweet 16. Same with Oklahoma in 2018 and 2019.

Expanding the field beyond 68 teams would benefit BYU’s odds of cracking into the dance, and it sounds like Pope isn’t afraid of the field growing in the future.

BYU basketball begins its quest for a potential NCAA Tournament bid in the 2022-23 season with a home opener on November 7 against Idaho State.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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