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BYU Will Pray Instead of Play, so NCAA Sweats

March 19, 2003|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

Of all the bets being placed on the NCAA tournament, here is one of the biggest: The NCAA is betting that Brigham Young won't win two games to advance to the second week, and fervently hoping it wins its gamble.

That's because if BYU wins two games, not only will office pools across the country be thrown into chaos -- no concern of the NCAA's -- but the competitive integrity of the tournament will come into question.

It's all the result of the BYU blunder by the NCAA selection committee -- chaired, remarkably, by BYU graduate Jim Livengood, the athletic director at Arizona.

BYU, owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, has a well known policy of not playing on Sunday, considered by the church to be a day of rest. That policy is routinely honored by the NCAA.

But by placing BYU in the South Regional, the committee set the Cougars up to play on a Sunday if they were to reach the regional final March 30 at San Antonio.

BYU complained loudly.

The NCAA's solution amounted to wait and see. (And cross your fingers.)

If BYU advances, the NCAA has committed to move the Cougars from the South to a Midwest Regional semifinal game in Minneapolis, where the final is scheduled for March 29, a Saturday.

That means another team -- the winner of the foursome of Wisconsin, Weber State, Dayton and Tulsa in the Midwest -- would have to move to the South.

And somebody would be screaming that it's unfair.

Chances are, the issue is moot: To advance, 12th-seeded BYU (23-8) would have to upset fifth-seeded Connecticut (21-9), and then defeat the winner of the game between fourth-seeded Stanford (23-8) and 13th-seeded San Diego (18-11).

(Last season, three of four 12th-seeded teams won their first-round games, but only Missouri won its second-round game as well, then tacked on one more victory, over UCLA, to become the first 12th-seeded team ever to reach the Elite Eight.)

"I think we feel like what they decided to do is workable," BYU spokesman Brett Pyne said. "We just want to play somewhere where, if we're successful, we'll continue to have an opportunity to play," without violating the school's Sunday policy.

Switching the winner of BYU's so-called "pod" of teams seeded fourth, fifth, 12th and 13th in the South with the winner of the group of teams seeded fourth, fifth, 12th and 13th in the Midwest might sound fair enough at first.

But what if No. 12 BYU is the winner in the South and No. 4 Dayton is the winner in the Midwest?

Then Kentucky, the No. 1 team in the Midwest, suddenly draws No. 12 BYU instead of Dayton in a regional semifinal.

And Texas, the No. 1 team in the South, suddenly draws No. 4 Dayton.

The shouts of protest would be audible from San Antonio to Minneapolis, at least on the airwaves.

Other possible solutions were dismissed.

Move No. 12 BYU from the South to the Midwest before the tournament begins, switching places with Weber State, the No. 12 in that region? (After all, both are scheduled to play first-round games Thursday in Spokane, Wash.)

Weber State would much rather stick with its game against Wisconsin than play Connecticut, thank you.

Switch the dates of the South regional in San Antonio from Friday-Sunday to Thursday-Saturday?

A logistical nightmare.

Or just cross your fingers and hope the Cougars don't pull the two upsets that probably will be required?

Check.

How did all this happen? Simple oversight apparently, perhaps brought on by the confusion of the pod system, in only its second year.

Previously, a team that played at a Thursday-Saturday site the first week would advance to a Thursday-Saturday site the next week.

Under the new system, the winner of a four-team pod that plays on Thursday and Saturday the first week might advance to a Friday-Sunday regional the second, making it easier to overlook an issue such as BYU presented.

That Livengood, BYU class of '68, was the chairman made it that much richer.

"The committee respects [BYU's] policy, and we discussed it during the meetings," Livengood said. "Unfortunately, the bracket as released ... did not reflect the policy. The adjustment addresses the BYU situation while not adversely affecting the balance of the four regions."

Easy to say. But two victories by a BYU team that appears to be under-seeded at No. 12 -- the Cougars had an RPI of No. 19, which would suggest a considerably higher seeding -- will give everyone plenty to talk about.

As for now, fill out those brackets with care.

"For the office pools, it might have been better to have made the change early," BYU Athletic Director Val Hale said. "But they wanted to avoid any possible complication until it actually presents itself."

*

Times wire services contributed to this report.

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