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Big Ten Prepares to Join the Crowd, Approve a Postseason Tournament

December 13, 1987|United Press International

CHICAGO — The Big Ten Conference finally succumbs to the sirens' call this week.

On Monday, the Council of Ten, comprised of the conference's top administrators, will formally adopt a plan for a postseason basketball tournament beginning next season.

The rubber-stamping procedure will end a process that began less than a year ago when Big Ten coaches voted 9-1 to join nearly every other major league and choose its NCAA Tournament representative through a postseason tournament.

The athletic directors approved the money-making plan earlier in the fall. The council's approval is the final hurdle.

That will leave the Ivy League and Mid-Continent Conference as the only leagues awarding automatic NCAA berths to regular-season champions.

The Big Ten's slow move toward a postseason tournament is not surprising. Until 1975, only the Rose Bowl-bound league champion could play in the postseason.

The philosophy carried over to basketball. In the days when leagues were represented by only one team in the NCAA Tournament, Big Ten purists contended it was wrong to send a team other than the regular-season champion.

Bob Knight of NCAA champion Indiana is the league's lone coach to oppose a Big Ten tournament. He has even talked about playing reserves if the tournament is adopted.

"I'm concerned about the additional time it's going to tke the players out of classes," Knight says. "I asked my players if they wanted a postseason tournament. They all said no."

Then again, what Hoosier player would challenge Knight, even in the privacy of practice in Bloomington?

Wisconsin Coach Steve Yoder disputes Knight's claim.

"I've talked to my players and they say they'd love a tournament," he said. "Have you ever talked to a player who didn't want a chance to participate in a tournament?" Yoder asks. "I think it would be great."

A Big Ten tournament will change the regular-season schedule. Currently, a Big Ten team plays an 18-game league schedule, a home-and-home series with the other nine schools.

Some coaches charge the format is too demanding and has caused teams--aside from Indiana--to burn out by the time of the NCAA Tournament.

"The league is as strong as I've remembered it now," Michigan State Coach Jud Heathcote says. "When you bang heads against one another, it takes its toll."

Under the new plan, teams would play a 14-game league schedule. The maximum of three tournament games would also free schools to schedule up to four games against non-league foes.

That would presumably ease schedules, allowing a Big Ten school to pad its record and possibly earn a better shot for a bid to the NCAA field or the National Invitation Tournament.

The schedule change might cause more controversy than the tournament itself. With a 14-game schedule, some teams will face each other only once. As a result, the league schedule will carry more signficance, particularly for the tournament seeding.

"It all depends on the schedule, I guess, whether you have to play Indiana, Purdue or Illinois twice or Wisconsin or Northwestern twice," Michigan Coach Bill Frieder says.

Clearly, the main reason for the tournament is money. The Hoosierdome in Indianapolis, site of the first tournament, can seat around 50,000. At $20 a ticket, attendance alone could yield $1 million. Television rights will bring a whopping figure.

"You're talking about possibly the biggest tourney of them all," basketball commentator Billy Packer says. "Great teams, great markets, great ratings. It would be a tremendous draw. The competition for it would be great."

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