Opening-round games to be weighed

INDIANAPOLIS -- Texas-San Antonio athletic director Lynn Hickey is getting ready for her next big balancing act.

Yes, she wants to be the impartial judge and find a workable format for the NCAA's new 68-team format for the men's basketball tournament. She also must perform her role as an advocate for schools such as UTSA and smaller conferences such as the Southland.

All 10 men's basketball committee members will face a similar dilemma next week as they sift through the responses to the format change. The five days of meetings in Indianapolis will not include much easy reading, and it's not likely to be a simple vote, either.

"It's the first time we'll have a summary of what the different conferences are submitting," Hickey said. "I think there's been a variety of responses, but they're all over the map."

Those reactions could complicate what once looked like a simple process.

After meeting in May, the committee asked NCAA schools to give their opinions on the recommended expansion to four opening-round games, one in each region. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith confirmed there were three options on the list -- making the eight lowest seeds in the tourney play in the opening round, making the last eight at-large teams in the field play or a combination of the two.

The only clear answer heading into the meetings, which start Sunday, is this: Nobody wants to play in the opening-round games.

Teams competing in conferences such as the Southland, like Hickey's Roadrunners, or the Southwestern Athletic, a league made up primarily of historically black colleges and universities, do not want to be pigeonholed into playing an extra tourney game each year. Power-conference schools, which usually take most of the 34 at-large bids, think they should avoid the opening-round games, too.

So Smith and Hickey must figure out how to play both advocate and arbiter.

"My responsibility is to the groups I represent, so I need to be very well informed about what they want," Hickey said.

The expectation is that a vote will take place next week, though a formal announcement may not come right away.

Should the committee want more time to consider the schools' suggestions, which Hickey described as going "above and beyond" previous proposals, it could push back the vote.

"I think what the committee will do is engage in a robust discussion about the various options. Short of that discussion, it's impossible to anticipate where it comes out, how it comes out because it's the committee's decision," NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen said. "I don't think it [the time frame] has changed at all. I think it remains on the course that it has been."

Committee chair Dan Guerrero has said that a decision would be made this summer and that the new format is still expected to be in place for the 2011 tournament.

Smith, who replaces Guerrero, UCLA's athletic director, as selection committee chair later this year, wouldn't even guess at what will happen this week.

Last month, Guerrero said putting the eight lowest-seeded teams in the opening-round games would help the selection committee stay "true to the seed process" -- though he understands why some leagues are worried. Committee members also must determine when and where the opening-round games will be played. Previous games have been played in Dayton, Ohio.

And with so many schools and conferences trying to score points in this debate, nobody can be sure of what will happen next.

"It's going to be very interesting when we get the full report," Hickey said. "What we have to see is how our principles are written, how our entertainment principles are written and then look at what's best for the tournament and, most important, what's best for the student-athlete. So it should be an interesting discussion."