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COLLEGE BASKETBALL * BIG WEST TOURNAMENTS | NOTEBOOK

Conference Hoping for NCAA Windfall

March 09, 2001|LON EUBANKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For the Big West Conference, which is guaranteed one berth in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, landing a second team in the 64-team field would be worth an additional $540,000 paid out over six years, according to Big West Commissioner Dennis Farrell.

The payoff is based on a system in which each school in the postseason tournament earns one unit, which is worth roughly $90,000 per year for the next six years. Teams earn additional units for each NCAA tournament victory, up to a maximum of five units for those that reach the Final Four.

"That figure [$90,000 per unit] is expected to escalate in the years ahead because of the new CBS TV contract," Farrell said. "But it's obvious that those conferences that get several teams in the field, and then have those teams win some games, are getting a good payoff."

The Big West, however, has not had two teams in the tournament since Long Beach State won the conference tournament in 1993 and New Mexico State earned an at-large berth. Long Beach State lost to Illinois in the first round, but New Mexico State defeated Nebraska in the first round before losing to Cincinnati.

The $540,000 the Big West receives goes into its operating budget, and any additional money is divided equally among its schools.

Farrell said the conference gives its participating schools about $18,000 for each weekend they are in the tournament to help cover expenses above those paid by the NCAA.

"We don't make any money from a team playing in the NIT," Farrell said. "The NIT normally just pays the teams' expenses, and there's no money distribution involved."

Farrell remains hopeful the conference will get two NCAA berths this season. "Our best chance for that happening probably would be for UC Irvine and Utah State to make it to the [Big West tournament] final," he said. "But we've made our pitch already, and now the selection committee is behind closed doors."

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UC Irvine's basketball team is working on the court to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time. Athletic Director Dan Guerrero has labored behind the scenes trying to pry an at-large bid from the selection committee in case the Anteaters fail to win the Big West tournament for the conference's automatic bid.

Guerrero has made personal pleas to members of the committee, hoping to convince them that the Anteaters should be one of the 65 teams.

"Our effort is more passionate than most," Guerrero said. "We have had a better season than any other bubble team. We have the second-best record in the nation and we have been consistent all year. We are the feel-good story on the West Coast. Consequently, I believe our case is strong."

Unfortunately, the Anteaters' RPI rating is high, 65. So while scheduling teams such as Belmont and San Diego helped make a glossy record, it might hurt the Anteaters come Sunday.

Of course, two more victories and Irvine won't have to worry about that.

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Think UC Irvine coaches were a little edgy waiting for their tournament opener?

During the team's morning shoot-around Thursday, they asked that the rims be checked at the Anaheim Convention Center. They were concerned that the rim at one end was too high. It eventually was readjusted.

The rims were checked before each game, which caused a 40-minute delay before the session's second game between Utah State and Cal State Fullerton.

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Times staff writer Chris Foster contributed to this story.

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