Options debated at latest NCAA meeting

May, 17, 2010
In the wake of the NCAA men's basketball selection committee's meeting late last week in Indianapolis, it's become clear that the new 68-team NCAA tournament format will be conducted in one of two ways.

The committee will either: (1) seed the tournament 1-17 and have the bottom eight teams that were automatic qualifiers play in four opening-round games on Tuesday (or split with two on Tuesday and two on Wednesday) or (2) set it up so the last eight at-large teams will play in opening-round games on those same days for different seed lines.

NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen told ESPN.com prior to the meeting that those were the two most likely scenarios. After the meeting concluded last week, UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, the outgoing chair of the 10-person committee, confirmed to ESPN.com over the weekend that those were the two options that received the most discussion.

He said there was an option discussed that would pit at-larges against AQs in the opening-round games, but there wasn't much support for that idea.

Guerrero said the membership will discuss the options, especially during conference meetings over the next month, and give feedback to the committee before it meets and makes a final decision in Chicago during the last week in June.

"The traditionalists say let's go with a 1-68 true seed line and call it a day,'' Guerrero said of the bottom eight AQs playing in opening-round games. "But there is another school of thought for the opening-round games that could make them pretty special and create a splash and that merits consideration.''

The NCAA's new $10.8 billion, 14-year deal with CBS/Turner begins with next season's tournament. But one CBS executive has told ESPN.com that they didn't get the tournament for the opening-round ratings. Still, if the selection committee goes with the bottom AQs in the opening round, there will be a perception that the "real" tournament begins on Thursday.

Guerrero said there was a lot of discussion that if the committee went with the bottom eight AQs in a 16 vs. 17 game, there would be some sort of rotation devised, which would prevent a conference from being in the opening-round game for more than three years in a row.

"You would need to have some sort of rotational basis to appease some of the concerned conferences,'' he said.

As far as the other scenario is concerned, Guerrero said those games wouldn't just be for one seed line. That means two teams, let's say Virginia Tech and Mississippi State from last season, would play for a No. 11 seed while two other teams, say Minnesota and Florida, could play for the 10-seed.

"You have to seed the teams,'' Guerrero said. "You can have two teams on the 11 line, two teams on the 12 line and two teams on the 13 line. There wasn't any strong sentiment to have all the teams on the same seed line playing for No. 12.''

Location-wise, Guerrero said no one brought up moving the opening-round games out of Dayton, where they've been since their inception in 2001.

"We came to the conclusion at this meeting that we weren't going to come to a conclusion,'' said Guerrero, whose tenure as chair will end with this decision, before he hands the reins to Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith. "We still need to massage all of this. We will do our due diligence and look at all of the models.''

The easy thing to do would be 16 vs. 17, which wouldn't change the 1-16 first-round game much. The uproar would be that more schools from big-time conferences would squeeze into the field at the expense of the AQs. But one could argue that the AQs have a chance throughout the season to bolster their power ratings to move up higher on the seed line and avoid the opening round.

If the committee decides to go with the at-large opening-round format, it certainly would get much more of a pop nationally. But the 5-, 6- or 7-seeds that play the winners could be at a bit of a disadvantage when they play a team that has already won an NCAA game and has a little bit of momentum. On the other hand, they might get an opponent with tired legs.

The NCAA already has ready-made arguments for both formats. Shaheen has made the point that any team that plays in the opening round gets a full NCAA share of money. And any at-large coach who whines about playing in the opening-round game could be quickly reminded that his team might not even be in the tournament under the old format.

Either way, there will be detractors no matter the decision. That much we know for sure.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer




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