SDSU’s Brian Dutcher opposed to NCAA Tournament expansion

The NCAA’s Transformation Committee, charged with reimagining Division I sports, released a 22-page report earlier this week after meeting regularly for the past year. It is filled with proposals about recruiting visits, new sports, governance, mental health, staff limits and coaching certification.

But the one sure to receive the most attention focuses on the postseason, specifically as it relates to the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. They currently include 68 teams. The proposal suggests that in sports with 200 or more Div. I participants, the postseason should include 25 percent of them.

The math: There are 363 Div. I men’s basketball programs, and 25 percent of that is 90.

“The beauty of basketball is, if it expands, we could get it done,” San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher said. “Football, they need a week off between games. Basketball, we can play every other day. If they did go in that direction, they’d find a way to still make it a wonderful tournament.”

That doesn’t mean he wants an expanded tournament. He doesn’t.

“I think it’s fine the way it is,” Dutcher said. “I’m an old-school guy. I like it because we’re always getting in, it seems like. If we’d been left out four or five straight times, I probably wouldn’t like it as much. I don’t want to see those opportunities go away for a conference like the Mountain West. As long as the power conferences aren’t stealing opportunities (from mid-majors), I like the field the way it is.

“But whatever it is, if it’s 90 teams, then the 91st will complain they didn’t get in. There are going to be people unhappy no matter what it is.”

Dutcher’s view may be influenced by his age and standings. He’s not a young coach at a program trying to gain traction, or a new contract. Many coaches supporting expansion see an opportunity for more teams to get invites, which translates to more job security for them.

“At 63,” Dutcher said, “I look at things a little differently than when I was 43.”

Wyoming coach Jeff Linder, whose Cowboys host the Aztecs on Saturday (1 p.m. PST, CBS), agrees.

“Why ruin a good thing?” Linder said in October during Mountain West media day. “It’s perfect where it’s at. Let’s reward the really good teams. There’s no reason to water it down.”

The primary argument in favor is to enhance the student-athlete experience by expanding postseason opportunities. The field was closer to that 25 percent figure back in the 1980s (at just under 23 percent), but as Div. I has expanded (from the 280s to 363), that number has dropped to its current 18.7 percent. There’s also the prospect of more revenue with more games.

The argument against: Only three teams without top four seeds have ever won it — a No. 6, 7 and 8. And the 32-team NIT, plus lesser events like the 16-team CBI and 18-team The Basketball Classic, bring the postseason scope to 134 teams — or 37 percent of Div. I.

Dutcher and Linder may get their wish, at least in the short term.

The transformation committee’s recommendations will be formally presented and discussed at the NCAA Convention next week in San Antonio, then forwarded to individual sport committees. But even if the one overseeing men’s basketball favors expansion, and all indications are it does not, there’s the matter of the CBS contract that extends through 2032.

The earliest anything could happen would be March 2025. The men’s basketball committee would consider the proposal in June 2023 and make a final recommendation by January 2024. It also can, of course, recommend against expansion.

Scary moment

Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsing on the field Monday night and leaving in an ambulance brought back chilling memories of Dec. 22, 2014, when Aztecs wing Dwayne Polee collapsed during a game against UC Riverside at Viejas Arena.

The circumstances were slightly different. Hamlin took a hit to the chest; Polee was just running back on defense.

But the aftermath was all too familiar.

“When a guy goes down on the court, it’s always scary,” Dutcher said. “I remember it was dead silent in the arena. We were all praying at that time for DP. It’s a scary moment, and we’ve been through it to a degree.”

Polee tweeted Monday night: “Seeing that Hamlin scenario unlocked some scary ass memories, prayers up to him and his family!”

Polee suffered from cardiac arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat, and was treated with a catheter ablation, an electrode threaded through an artery in the groin that cauterizes the offending heart cells. He returned two months later to play for the Aztecs.

The map

For the second time in four years, a Mountain West team won “the map,” which shows the remaining undefeated teams in Div. I. New Mexico, at 14-0, was the lone team left standing after No. 1 Purdue lost Monday against unranked Rutgers. (SDSU was the other, going 26-0 in 2019-20.)

But that lasted barely 24 hours, when the Lobos lost 71-67 at Fresno State. Two days earlier they escaped at Wyoming with a 76-75 victory. Only once since 1977-78 has the final unbeaten gone extinct sooner — Dec. 30 in 2017-18.

“It just shows how hard it is to win on the road in this conference,” Dutcher said. “New Mexico, they might be happy they got a road split. Wyoming was a one-possession game. They could have left that road swing 0-2 or 2-0. That’s how fine a line it is when you play in this conference.”

The loss was costly in the metrics for the Lobos, who plummeted from eighth to 66th in ESPN’s strength of record metric and 18th to 34th in the NCAA’s NET. They’re even lower in other leading metrics: 61 in Kenpom and Sagarin, and 69 in ESPN’s BPI.

Straight A’s

Jaedon LeDee got a perfect 4.0 grade point average last semester, the fourth men’s basketball scholarship athlete to do so since 1994.

SDSU student-athletes with a 4.0 over a semester receive the Malik Award, named in honor of a longtime chemistry professor and former faculty athletic representative. Nathan Mensah is the only basketball player to receive it since 2005. Keshad Johnson came close last spring with a 3.92.

For the 2021-22 academic year, there were 43 Malik Award winners among SDSU’s 500-plus athletes. Only three of them were men.

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