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More Teams in March Madness? Say Goodbye to the Cinderella Stories

Greg Sankey, the commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, is the ultimate soft power player. He does not produce pithy soundbites. He rarely raises his voice. Instead, he speaks opaquely, often requiring something like a college sports Kremlinologist to interpret his intentions.

He has also been at it for long enough that he is well practiced at throwing his weight around: kicking off a realignment wave by poaching Oklahoma and Texas, coauthoring a rewrite of the N.C.A.A. constitution and scoffing out of existence the possibility that the SEC would be shut out of the football playoff last season.

Recently, he teamed up with the Big Ten commissioner, Tony Petitti, to leverage a deal that will award their conferences about 60 percent of the television revenue for the 12-team College Football Playoff that begins next year, leaving crumbs for everyone else.

So, when Sankey told ESPN this month that it was time to rethink the N.C.A.A. men’s basketball tournament, the parsing began.

“We are giving away highly competitive opportunities for automatic qualifiers” from smaller leagues, Sankey said. “I think that pressure is going to rise as we have more competitive basketball leagues at the top end because of expansion.”

“We are giving away highly competitive opportunities for automatic qualifiers,” Greg Sankey, the commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, told ESPN recently.Credit…Wes Frazer for The New York Times

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