The NCAA is on an hour-by-hour alert status and prepared to postpone Thursday's first-round NCAA Tournament games or stop them while in progress if a war in Iraq starts prior to tip-off, sources have told ESPN.com.
No final decisions have been made, but the NCAA is preparing a contingency plan in the event it is forced to disrupt the tournament in any way.
Sources said the arenas and hotels are being checked for availability through April if the NCAA were to push the tournament back a few days, or even a few weeks. The NCAA has received cooperation. The Final Four in New Orleans is scheduled for April 5 and 7. Sources said the tournament could stretch into late April if this occurs.
During a town hall meeting Monday night in Indianapolis, NCAA president Myles Brand acknowledged the possibility of suspending the tournament.
"We don't know when [war] will start, and we have to be respectful of our men and women in uniform," Brand said. "On the other hand, I think we have to be very careful not to let Saddam Hussein control our lives. We have to balance those."
But sources within the NCAA said teams have been told to travel to their first-round sites as early as Tuesday in anticipation of playing Thursday. Tuesday night's opening-round game between Texas Southern and UNC-Asheville in Dayton, Ohio, will go on as scheduled.
However, the rest of the tournament will remain in a state of flux. Sources said teams could be stranded at sites for days or up to a week while the NCAA decides whether to resume the tournament or continue it after a days-long delay.
"Everybody is going to be in a scramble, and if they start bombing Thursday afternoon there is no way to predict what could happen," a source told ESPN.com. "There is no way to tell what will happen. Everyone is going ahead as normal. But if something happens and there is a war, then all bets are off. There will most likely be a delay."
Sources said Brand and his associates are in daily, almost hourly conversations with the White House and the Office of Homeland Security in mulling whether to play as scheduled.
The sources said the main issues facing the NCAA are showing respect for the U.S. servicemen and women and the security at the sites. The nation's terror-alert level was raised to Orange, the second-highest level, on Monday.
"It will be a crazy few days or weeks with everybody's nerves on edge," said one source.
The source said CBS has already made plans to shift games to ESPN in the first round as well as its Viacom-owned networks such as such as MTV, UPN, BET or TNN so it can broadcast coverage of the War in Iraq.
"We have to arrive at a position that makes the most sense for the NCAA," the source said. "But we don't want a tyrant to run our lives."
Following the Sept. 11 attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, Brand -- then the president at Indiana University -- postponed the Hoosiers' football game against Kentucky. The following day, the NCAA called off all its events scheduled for that weekend.
The NCAA women's tournament is facing the same possible delay, although sources said the NCAA isn't as concerned because that tournament starts Saturday. Security issues for non-revenue NCAA championships such as wrestling aren't as high as the men's tournament, so there is the posibility that those events could go on as planned.
"We don't know what we're going to do," Donna Noonan, vice president for Division I women's basketball, told The Associated Press on Monday. "We've done our planning and all of that, but there's just so many different factors and scenarios.
"In any kind of discussion, you think about the worst case, what's the worst thing you'll have to do?" Noonan said. "That
would ultimately be the last resort that you would do that, and I don't anticipate that happening. "I think we'll play the games, unless, who knows?"
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.