Saturday, March 1, 2003

NCAA mulls war contingencies

The Indianapolis Star

With the potential for war looming, NCAA officials are reviewing a variety of contingency plans for the men's basketball tournament, including the possibility of rescheduling games.

"The adjustments may be procedural, scheduling, logistical," said Greg Shaheen, managing director of the tournament.

Shaheen said the same contingency and security plans have been in place since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks but that the current situation "heightens our focus to make sure everyone understands procedures and to make sure we're communicating. Our focus is on being prepared."

The tournament begins March 20 at four first-round sites and second-round games begin March 22.

CBS Sports President Sean McManus has said the network might shift games to MTV, VH1 or TNN if CBS needs the airtime to cover the war. Viacom owns CBS and the other channels.

Mike Fox, stadium director of the RCA Dome, said the venue's experience with Colts games gives him confidence for handling the first NCAA tournament games in Indianapolis since the 2000 Final Four.

The NFL, Fox said, has stringent, site-specific security guidelines.

"The fact that we are an NFL city and NFL facility has greatly prepared us for what we need to do March 20 and 22," he said.

Shaheen declined to say if the start of war would affect the scheduling of tournament games.

"We have a little flexibility if they decide to play later," Fox said.

Shaheen, who oversees areas such as security, game operations and ticketing, said the NCAA continuously reviews its security and contingency plans.

"How we would respond depends on the circumstances, timing and input we would receive from law enforcement, the facilities and participating institutions," Shaheen said. "Our focus is on the safety of the student-athletes and fans. That's where it begins and ends."

Political expression usually isn't a part of the NCAA tournament, but a Division III women's basketball player has made national news, and raised the ire of many, by turning away from the flag during the national anthem this season.

The Division I Men's Basketball Championship Handbook prohibits "large signs, flags or banners."

"We respect the rights of the student-athletes and fans regarding statements and so forth," Shaheen said. "You can't have a large sign that would block someone's view. That has been in place a long time. We're not in the business of restricting free speech."

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