NCAA Releases Expanded Men's Hoops Tourney Format

March Madness just got a little crazier.

The NCAA released on Monday the new format for the Men’s basketball tournament, which the organization expanded by four teams to a field of 68 in April.

Under the new structure, the final four automatic qualifiers will meet the final four at-large teams to earn the right to play themselves into the standard, 64 team-team draw, according to an ESPN report.

The so-called “First Four” will play on the Tuesday or Wednesday that directly follows Selection Sunday, which marks the end of the conference tournament season. The winner of those games will advance to the second round, which will occur on Thursday or Friday and will be followed by a newly-created third round, that will play out over Saturday and Sunday and feature 16 games. The rest of the schedule will follow the traditional format, preserving the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight. The new format will be in place for the 2011 tournament.

The new games will air on TruTV, formerly CourtTV, under an agreement among CBS, Turner, TBS and Tru. The networks entered a new 10-year, $14.8 billion dollar deal to air the tournament this year. ESPN formerly aired the play-in game.

With this new format comes the first time that the final four at-large teams will be revealed to the public. The announcement of the at-large teams, especially the teams deemed to be the last entrants into the field, is often controversial because their slots in the Big Dance rely both on the objective and subjective judgments of the selection committee, which can vary in emphasis from year to year. Automatic qualification is bestowed on teams that win their post-season conference tournaments, making their selection less problematic.

The seeding process for the teams is yet to be determined, though the NCAA has indicated that the teams will be slotted according to the line the committee decided they were worth. Therefore, it’s possible that two teams could be 10 seeds, fighting for the right to play 7 seeds, or 12 seeds scrapping to battle 5 seeds.

The contests will likely be played in Dayton, OH, which has previously hosted the play-in game for the 64th and 65th teams in the field. The teams will either play on a Tuesday-Thursday or Wednesday-Friday format.

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