M College BB
Message board
Weekly lineup
NCAA StatSearch
 Thursday, October 26
NCAA gives exempted tourneys reprieve
 By Andy Katz

Exempted non-conference men's basketball tournaments survived a potentially devastating ruling from the NCAA when no official endorsement passed through the management council Wednesday and Thursday at its quarterly meetings in Indianapolis.

The NCAA management council agreed to give an initial approval but didn't endorse the proposal. Instead, the legislation will go out for comment over the next 60 days to the membership.

This comes after the Conference Commissioners Association voted to drop the exempted status from non-conference tournaments.

"The council didn't think it was fair to be one-sided in this, and we're looking for feedback," said Stanford athletics director Ted Leland, the chair of the management council.

The council said it agreed that it wanted a more level playing field and wanted to ease academic concerns during a heavy part of the semester. But most of the tournaments are on the weekend or during the holidays. The tournaments have been more equitable since the NCAA introduced legislation that forbids teams from being in an exempted tournament.

Teams are only allowed to go to non-conference exempted tournaments twice in four years, and once in four years off the mainland. An example of how the tournaments can include a number of schools is the San Juan Shootout, where seven of the eight teams are lower profile but nonetheless quality programs: SMU, Iona, Nebraska, Evansville, Virginia Commonwealth, Kent and Northwestern.

An exempted tournament means a school can only count one game for the three it plays in tournaments like Maui, or the four potential games in the Preseason NIT, against its NCAA limit of 27 regular-season games. The conference commissioners voted earlier in the month to eliminate the exemptions and have a maximum of 28 regular-season games, beginning in 2002. The 29th game would be held for a conference tournament. Teams would also be forbidden to hold exhibition games, but could hold a controlled scrimmage against a Division I team. This part of the proposal could prove crippling to programs that rely on two more home gates on a season-ticket package.

The exempted tournaments only have a reprieve in their hope to keep their tournaments alive. The management council is expected to hear discussion on the matter at the convention in January. The management council could still vote on the issue at its April meeting, a few weeks before the NCAA board of directors could end up endorsing the rule.

But the earliest the rule will likely now be enforced is 2003. A moratorium has been put in place dating back to July 25, 2000, for tournaments beyond 2002.

Leland said that still stands.

"It's better that it's not gone for now," Preseason NIT director Jack Powers said Thursday. "It's interesting that no one did get up for it. We're thankful for that."

In fact, representatives from the Atlantic 10, Northeast and Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference did support the NIT during discussion.

During the past three weeks, the Preseason NIT, the University of Hawaii --which runs the Rainbow Classic -- presidents from Alaska-Anchorage (Great Alaska Shootout) and Alaska-Fairbanks (Top of the World Shootout) had lobbied hard for special exemptions.

The Preseason NIT claimed it should have an exemption because it was an elimination tournament. Sixteen teams start in the tournament, but half play only one game. Hawaii was looking for an exemption because it's the only Division I school which hosts an eight-team tournament. The two Alaska schools, which aren't Division I, were looking for a similar exemption because they are host schools.

"We are concerned about the impact for the University of Hawaii," WAC commissioner Karl Benson said. "We plan to seek some sort of relief for Hawaii. The financial impact and scheduling impact would be difficult on Hawaii and we plan to make that clear during the comment period."

The third-party tournaments like Maui, Coaches vs. Cancer, the three tournaments in Puerto Rico, NABC, CoSIDA, Hispanic College Fund tournament, and on and on, would have been set adrift without an exemption.

"I don't see how they could kill off some and not others," said Rick Giles, who coordinates the Coaches vs. Cancer and BCA tournaments for the New Jersey-based Gazelle Group.

The conference commissioners contested that they weren't ruining the tournaments, because teams could still play in the events, but would simply have to count the games. Organizers said they wouldn't get marquee teams to give up three games on their schedule without the exemption.

A few conference commissioners have come out and said they don't want third-party organizers controlling and earning money off high-profile non-conference matchups.

But the concern is, if there are fewer tournaments or no tournaments at all, then mid-major schools or schools in lower-profile conferences like Tulsa in the WAC won't get a chance to upgrade their schedules for an NCAA at-large tournament berth.

Another factor facing the management council is a potential legal response. The Preseason NIT has a television contract with ESPN through 2010.

"We're trying to explain our contract, our tradition," said Powers, who has said that eliminating the Preseason NIT would cut the funding needed for the 32-team postseason NIT. "We're hoping that this goes back to the basketball issues committee."

The Basketball Issues Committee meets for the first time Monday, and this issue could be on the agenda. National Association of Basketball Coaches director Jim Haney said the NABC is vehemently opposed to getting rid of non-conference exempted tournaments.

"It's all about controlling matchups," Haney said. "The conferences want it to sell as part of their overall television packages. But the coaches are opposed to these changes. These are great matchups for college basketball (in November and December)."

The council also addressed amateurism issues for students before college. But these proposals were also sent for comment.

The major proposal was that a student would lose one year of eligibility for each season of competition he plays after high school (i.e. in the CBA, etc.). Other proposals would allow students to accept prize money based on finish; enter a professional draft and be drafted; sign a contract for athletics participation; accept compensation for athletics participation; compete with professionals; accept educational expenses in specific situations.

This last part is the most important as it would address all the suspensions last year for students accepting aid for tuition prior to college. The present amnesty rule calls for students to admit they took money for prep school and then sit out the first three games of the season. This would replace that rule.

The council also sent out for discussion a proposal that would tie graduation rates in men's basketball to scholarships. Anything less than 50 percent over a four-year period would mean schools would drop from 13 to 12 scholarships.

The final basketball proposal was the establishment of the postseason Spring Break Basketball Classic, a tournament for 16 teams who traditionally receive only one NCAA Tournament berth in their conferences. This would be in competition with the postseason NIT but would help produce opportunities for conferences that the NIT typically shuns.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Weekly Word: No more NIT?