The NCAA won a court case Monday to keep the 2-in-4 exempt tournament rule in place, but it may not make it to the 2005-06 season after the NCAA management council votes on two key proposals at the January convention in Indianapolis.
David Berst, the NCAA's vice president for Division I, said there is strong momentum among Division I coaches and the rest of the membership for a Northeast Conference proposal (2004-40-B) calling for 27 regular-season games, plus a conference tournament, plus a certified and exempt event of up to four games every season.
Two current restrictions would stay intact -- teams still couldn't participate in the same event more than once every four years and no event could have more than one team from a conference.
The Northeast Conference proposal would essentially get rid of the 2-in-4 rule, which currently prohibits teams from playing in exempt tournaments more than twice in four years. Currently, the NCAA allows teams to play in 28 regular-season games, which includes one game for a conference tournament and one game for an exempt event if a team is eligible. If a team goes on a foreign tour in the spring, summer or fall, then the team cannot play in an exempt event in the ensuing season.
The other proposal (2004-40-A), which came from the NCAA's playing and practice season subcommittee, is being met with strong criticism from coaches and the organizers of these events, calls for 29 regular-season games (one of which represents participation in the conference tournament, irrespective of the number of games played in that tournament), but making each game of exempt events count toward that total of 29.
That would mean teams could play in an event like the Maui Invitational, but each of the three games would count toward their total. This could impact schools like Syracuse that need home games to pay for the athletic department budgets and would probably shy away from exempt events if each of the games counted toward their maximum.
Once these proposals are voted on, they would go out for discussion and then be voted on again at the April meeting of the management council. If there is enough support for either proposal, the NCAA board of directors would then vote on the matter a few weeks later and it would, according to Berst, be added to the NCAA rule book for the 2005-06 season if it passed.
"Through my own informal discussions, there seems to be more interest in the Northeast proposal," Berst told ESPN.com Monday. "There is interest in the membership to going somewhere every year. The 2-in-4 would go away. The decision was important because we need the antitrust law. The case was about 'Can you limit the season?' and the answer was 'Yes, you can limit the season in some fashion.' That was helpful to us. Now the issue is to figure out what everybody wants and get it accomplished."
Exempt tournaments still wouldn't be able to load up their fields with only high-major teams, because those schools don't want to go home with a handful of losses. High-majors want at least a few mid- or low-major teams in the fields, which works for the low and mid-majors because it's usually their only shot to get high-major teams on a neutral court.
Saint Mary's is heading to New York to play Memphis and then either Syracuse or Mississippi State in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic after the Gaels upset Cal last Friday in Berkeley. Illinois State beat Penn State in the BCA Classic in Milwaukee on Sunday night. These teams might not get shot at teams from high-profile conferences if these tournaments were not exempt (as they wouldn't be under the 29-game plan).
The plaintiffs in the case are taking a wait-and-see approach before deciding their next legal move. They might not pursue another legal case if the 27-game proposal passes in January. But the NCAA admits that if the 29-game proposal passes, there could be more legal maneuvering to come.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.