NCAA proves itself either savvy or receptive

It's always perilous to predict what the mysterious NCAA hierarchy is thinking, but let's live dangerously for a minute.

The leadership has done one of two things:

1. It purposefully overplayed the likelihood of a 96-team NCAA tournament field to make the expansion to 68 teams seem wonderfully palatable in comparison.

2. It actually listened to the severe and sincere backlash to the idea of a 96-team field and opted for safer ground.

Whatever the case, I'll give the NCAA credit. It either was more savvy or more receptive than I had given the institution credit for previously. Either the NCAA played us perfectly to get what it wanted all along, or it retained an open mind and listened when every non-coach with a voice screamed in reaction to the specter of 96 teams, "Don't do it!"

Compared to the star-spangled debacle of 96, we're almost giddy at the expansion to 68. It's like resigning yourself to eating an entire can of dog food, then only being handed a spoonful. All things considered, pretty tasty.

Is it still a move to appease the whiners from major conferences who don't get in with .500 league records and cowardly nonconference scheduling? Yes. Of course. It's a reward for programs that don't really deserve it.

Which is why I like colleague Dana O'Neil's idea of how to add the extra teams and extra play-in games. But honestly, if it increases the watchability of those Tuesday games and turns that day into an actual event -- we could live with a quadruple header then, right? -- that's OK. And if it spares perennially nervous Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg more Selection Sunday agony, that's OK, too.

Just don't force the lowest eight league champions into those obscure games and compromise their chance for a more meaningful NCAA tourney experience. Let 'em all play the big boys and dream of a history-making upset.

So I have to give the NCAA credit -- at least temporary credit. Because that's still how this feels to me -- like a temporary solution.

I still believe the NCAA wants to expand to a 96-team field.

Whether it didn't feel it had the backing of the Division I conferences or the public at large, it didn't go forward with that today. But I don't think they've given up on 96 by any means. Expect an ongoing backroom dialogue in order to build support for the idea. After wearing us down and warming us up to it, I suspect they'll jam it down our throats eventually.

For today, however, we've downgraded our projected Alpo intake to a spoonful. I'll bark to that.