Big 12 finalizes tourney changes

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Finishing among the top six in the regular season will be rewarded with a first-round bye in the redesigned men's and women's Big 12 basketball tournaments.

It's one of the last adjustments the league had to make after Colorado and Nebraska dropped out this year and reduced the league to 10. As a 12-team league, only the top four teams got byes.

Under the new format, seeds No. 8 and 9 and 7 and 10 will play on the first day. Then the quarterfinals will match No. 4 vs. No. 5, No. 3 vs. No. 6, No. 1 vs. the 8-9 winner and No. 2 vs. the 7-10 winner.

The league spent several months studying various possibilities before adopting the new plan at its annual meetings on Thursday.

"It went through our coaches groups, went through our administrative groups, went all the way up the ladder," said commissioner Dan Beebe. "I think there was consideration of all sorts of formats. After all the discussion and debates about various benefits and detriments of other formats, it ended up unanimous."

The league also decided the men's and women's tournaments would run concurrently, Wednesday through Saturday. Last year, the women had an off day between the semifinals and championship game.

"They felt more comfortable eliminating the off day," said conference spokesman Bob Burda. "They felt if they ended on Sunday it would be somewhat anticlimactic since the men's championship would have occurred the previous day."

In another decision that may have more far-reaching implications than are apparent, the Big 12 voted to sponsor championships in rowing and equestrian, adding both as women's sports. Presently, only Kansas, Kansas State, Texas and Oklahoma have rowing teams and only Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas A&M have equestrian.

But making these sports subject to conference eligibility requirements means they can help schools neutralize football's impact on Title IX gender requirements.

Squad limits will be 52 for rowing and 32 for equestrian.

"The feeling is as institutions go forward and look at possible expansion, they'll look at those two activities," said Beebe. "We are increasing tremendously the opportunities for women."

The conference also voted to increase from $7,500 to $9,000 the Prentice Gautt postgraduate scholarship awards that are given every year to two student-athletes at each Big 12 school.