Thursday, February 27, 2003

NCAA seeks right measures for tourney

By Michael Marot
The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS - The NCAA men's selection committee is still looking for ways to avoid controversy within the "pods" system that debuted in the tournament last year.

Chairman Jim Livengood said Wednesday that the committee is trying its best to steer clear of the complaints that arose last year when some lower-seeded teams stayed close to home.

"The teams that earn the high seeds should have some advantage as to where they go," said Livengood, athletic director at Arizona. "It's not a perfect system, but it is workable."

This will be the second year for the "pods," which allows the committee flexibility in placing teams for the first two rounds. A venue could host teams in different regions or more than one No. 1 seed.

The selection committee was criticized last year for allowing third-seeded Pittsburgh to stay home for the first two games and scheduling a first-round contest between sixth-seeded Texas Tech and 11th-seeded Southern Illinois in Chicago.

Third-seeded Mississippi State also wound up playing Texas in Dallas in a second-round game.

Southern Illinois, Texas and Pittsburgh all reached the round of 16.

Livengood said there were no major changes to the system, which helped reduce travel for many teams and increased first- and second-round gate receipts by 15 percent over 2001.

Arenas for the three-week tournament were filled to 95.5 percent capacity, the highest total since 1995.

Livengood and his committee want to make the system fairer, but how much they can remains uncertain.

"It would be absolutely ideal to have every team play close to home," Livengood said. "Can that happen? Probably not. We're going to try and make sure that the team with the higher seed, at least, is accommodated first."

The rest of the tournament selection process appears unchanged.

Livengood reeled off the typical list of factors - wins and losses, RPI rating, non-conference RPI rating, conference record, record in the last 10 games among them - the committee would use to choose the 34 at-large teams.

He also said the committee would consider all of the criteria equally.

Preparing for this year's tournament, however, has included some additional work.

One day after CBS announced it had been discussing options to show the games on some of Viacom's other networks if war breaks out in Iraq, an NCAA official said he has been in almost daily contact with the network.

Viacom owns CBS, which has the rights to televise the tournament. Viacom also owns a number of cable networks including MTV, UPN, BET, TNN, VH1, CMT, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and TV Land. Should CBS need network time for war coverage, NCAA tournament games could be shown on the cable networks.

"CBS is looking at the best possible cable penetration and how to bring the tournament to the maximum number of people," said Greg Shaheen, managing director of the men's championship. "We're continuing to work through that with them."

In addition, the NCAA is developing contingency plans.

Livengood said there was no intention of scrapping the tournament, even if war breaks out. Additional security measures, though, would be used.

"There is a contingency plan and we're working with the proper authorities on that," he said. "If something were to materialize we'll go forward with that."

Livengood's most contentious job will be winnowing the field, seeding the teams and then placing them in the proper venues.

He would not discuss the prospects of specific teams but acknowledged that mid-majors would be given equal consideration against teams from the six power conferences - the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and Southeastern - even though it appears fewer mid-majors could claim at-large bids this year.

Teams with sub-.500 records also would be considered, Livengood said.

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