College basketball coaches outside the Power 5 conferences are fearful of a breakup or a disruption of the current NCAA tournament format, an ESPN survey showed.
Some 150 Division I men's basketball coaches responded to the survey last month. The coaches from outside the Power 5 (the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and Pac-12), who requested anonymity, were in near concert that they're worried about a potential breakup.
"The thing I fear about the college game is that the BCS continues to separate and create a second tier within Division I,'' a coach from a smaller conference said. "That would be really bad for the game. March Madness is special because of the [George] Masons, VCUs and Butlers.''
One coach from a conference considered just outside the Power 5 elaborated on his biggest concern: "The Power 5 schools breaking off from everyone else and forming their own association.''
The uncertainty has caused real angst with one coach, who asked, "Where will non-football schools be in 10-15 years from now?''
Another coach from a perennial one-bid league added: "There are more schools that are being forced to deal with what is being decided. It's no different than taxation without true representation.''
The survey also showed a split among some coaches -- depending on region -- on starting the regular season after the college football season ends. In addition, more would like to see the regular-season champion receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament in addition to the postseason tournament champ.
The only conference in which such a rule applies is the Ivy League, which doesn't have a conference tournament.
Conferences decide which schools will receive automatic berths to the NCAA tournament, and, other than the Ivy League, each has designated the conference tournament champion as the recipient.
"I would like to see the conference regular-season winner get the automatic bid,'' a coach from a Power 5 conference said. "The season is way too long. But giving the automatic bid to the regular season would make it more important.''
However, unbalanced schedules that prevent a true regular-season champ would be one problem a number of conferences would have with this format. The 10-member Big 12 is the only Power 5 conference that plays a true round-robin schedule. The 10-team, non-football-playing Big East also plays a similar schedule but is not in the Power 5.
"You should make the league champion of the regular season the automatic qualifier without a doubt,'' a coach from a Power 5 conference said. "But I do think doing that for the regular-season champion would make a lot of conference tournaments go away. When I was at the [one-bid conference] level, our season was three days in March.''
One coach from a conference that hasn't had multiple bids in more than 15 years added: "To make the regular season more meaningful, each of the automatic bid conferences should get two bids -- one for the regular season and one for the tourney champ. If the same team wins both, then you add to the at-large pool. This would require increasing the size of the tourney, but it would allow for the regular season to mean something and help all the schools that are not in a power conference. We already have the play-in games. It would just be more of them. Pretty simple.''
One idea a coach from a school outside of the Power 5 floated is creating flex scheduling late in the season for television purposes to ensure the most intriguing games are highlighted across the sport. Currently, games on TV are predetermined.
"We need to do a better job of branding specific leagues and their style of play,'' the coach said. "Watching the Big East and ACC games used to be an event, but with the realignment, it's hard to establish new rivalries.''
There are schools like Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, North Carolina, Creighton, Villanova and Xavier at which garnering interest in regular-season games is never an issue -- even against their football-focused counterparts.
One coach from a one-bid conference added his take on the best way for college basketball to have more early-season relevance: "Hope that the NFL goes on strike.''
But pushing the start of the regular season to Thanksgiving or into December so college basketball could be a one-semester sport would run counter to programming on ESPN, CBS and Fox, as well as contractual agreements with in-season holiday tournaments.
"I know what it's like to be at a football school,'' one coach who used to be at a Power 5 school said. "Fans won't be fully committed to basketball usually until after football is over. ... At schools with great football programs, those basketball teams suffer. Their fan bases don't have two heartbeats; they have one, and the heartbeat is what sport is in season. During football season, the fans go to football. When football is over, they go to basketball.''
Pushing the NCAA tournament deeper into April or May is unlikely to happen as long as CBS owns any of the rights, with the Final Four as the lead-in to the Masters.
"If we could get the sponsors to do May Madness instead of March Madness, it makes a lot of sense to make it a one-semester sport,'' a Power 5 conference coach said. "Move the start date from November to late December. It would be great -- academically. But it's a huge paradigm shift for everyone involved.''