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CCAA Brings Teams Together for First Postseason Playoff : Tournament Is Conference Ploy for Recognition

February 28, 1986|GORDON MONSON | Times Staff Writer

The California Collegiate Athletic Assn. is about to test its own treatment for a most dreaded malady: Anonymity.

In an effort to gain more exposure, earn more money and get more teams into the NCAA Division II postseason tournament, league officials voted last year to adopt a postseason playoff.

The tournament, which begins tonight at San Luis Obispo, includes the CCAA's top four teams from the regular season: Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, UC Riverside, Cal State Bakersfield and Cal State Los Angeles.

In effect, the playoff alone will determine the conference's NCAA tournament representative. It will toss aside regular-season results, and most likely result in some spectacular do-or-die basketball.

Bob Hiegert, Cal State Northridge athletic director, said the tournament will not only benefit the tournament winner, but also increase the league's chances of getting additional teams into the NCAA Division II tournament. The theory, Hiegert said, holds that the CCAA regular-season champion would get consideration from the NCAA selection committee, should it lose the automatic berth.

"They would have to consider the league champion if it lost in the tournament," Hiegert said, referring to the NCAA committee.

Although the CCAA tournament might churn up interest in the league, Northridge Coach Pete Cassidy, whose Matadors didn't qualify for the playoff, said the new format has problems.

"I was against it from the beginning," he said. "The coaches discussed it at a meeting last year. It was up in the air, then the next thing I knew it was approved by the athletic directors and faculty reps.

"I think they hoped it would make money. They say it helps keep teams motivated to play even though they are out of the race for first place. But I'm opposed to it.

"What will happen if the regular-season champion loses? There's no guarantee they'll be invited to the NCAAs. It would be a crime if the league champ couldn't go on."

The NCAA invites 32 teams to its Division II tournament. Half of the berths are given to league champions. The other 16 go to at-large teams determined by the selection committee.

Ernie Wheeler, coach of CCAA regular-season champion Cal Poly SLO, said he was in favor of the playoff last year. Now that his team could lose the automatic NCAA berth if it loses in the league playoffs, he has changed his mind.

"I might've voted for it then, but I'm against it now," Wheeler said. "If the NCAA would invite both the season champion and the tournament winner, then I'd be in favor. But the NCAA won't guarantee that."

"With the playoff," said Ken Walker, Cal Poly SLO athletic director, "we think the league will get more consideration from the NCAA to have more than one of its teams invited.

"I don't think the NCAA knows how good we are out here. The tournament could give us more exposure."

Many Division I conferences have turned to postseason playoffs to determine NCAA tournament representatives.

"Used to be, everyone thought the ACC was crazy for having a tournament," said Ed Seaman, sports information director at North Carolina State. "But now everybody's copying us.

"I don't blame them. It's a helluva tournament. It's more than a basketball tournament--it's a social event. A party."

While major college basketball conference playoffs generate money and media exposure, it remains uncertain whether similar benefits will come to schools in the CCAA.

"We don't know what to expect," Walker said. "Since the league voted for it, we've drawn our wagons and are going on with the tournament. We'll assess it when it's over."

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