End of an Era?
Exempt Games Face Extinction
Without tournaments such as the Maui Invitational, non-elite schools like Dayton would rarely if ever have the chance to play three straight games on a neutral court against ranked teams. (The Flyers also lost 76-59 to Arizona in Maui.) These tournaments exist because of their so-called exempt status under NCAA rules, which charge a participating team only one game against the regular-season limit of 28. Not only do these events create scintillating matchups, such as Arizona's win over Illinois in Maui or No. 2 Duke's narrow escape from Temple in the preseason NIT, but they also provide lesser lights like Dayton with an opportunity to boost their power ratings. Now, however, exempt tournaments are under assault—a cowardly assault at that—from the major conference commissioners.
The commissioners' reasons for eliminating the events include a desire to have all schools play the same number of games and to minimize missed class time. (These are the same guys who don't bat an eye when some of their players are on the road for three weeks straight during the NCAA tournament.) What it's really about, of course, is money. The commissioners would prefer that their teams play a couple more home games instead—for which they propose adding one game to the 28-game limit—thereby reducing travel expenses and permitting their schools to pocket more revenue. They may get their way, though most other interested parties oppose the elimination of exemptions. "The coaches want to play in these events, the kids want to and the fans want us to," Kansas coach Roy Williams says.
Because the proposal is so unpopular, the commissioners—especially those from the big power conferences, the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Conference USA, Pac-10 and SEC-are doing their best to push it through without leaving any fingerprints. Any league can propose a piece of legislation to the NCAA's management council, but when the issue of eliminating exempt tournaments was discussed during last June's meeting of the Collegiate Commissioners Association (CCA), none of the attendees volunteered to do so. So the CCA enlisted an NCAA committee, the championships/competition cabinet, to put the proposal before the management council. "You won't see any one conference stand up and sponsor the legislation, because everyone's worried about a backlash," says one conference commissioner who wishes to remain anonymous. "So we clouded it in the legislative process. That way it's faceless."
In October the management council approved the proposed legislation "without specific endorsement." Since all NCAA legislation requires two management council approval votes before going to the board of directors for a final vote, exemption elimination has now passed the first of three necessary steps. If it seems unlikely to pass the rest, given the cold reception the proposal has received, keep in mind that while every other conference appoints only one representative to the 49-member management council, the big seven conferences are each accorded three spots.