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NCAA tourney to stay 65 for now

INDIANAPOLIS -- The NCAA's little guys could still get
locked out of the most lucrative championship event in college
sports -- even after George Mason's improbable tournament run last
year.

On Thursday, the men's basketball committee announced it
rejected a coaches' proposal to nearly double the size of the NCAA
Tournament field from 65 to 128, calling expansion unnecessary and
not imminent.

It also voted down a more modest offer that would have added
fewer than eight teams to the bracket and increasing the number of
opening-round games in Dayton, Ohio.

"There is no enthusiasm on the part of the committee to expand
the tournament at this time," Craig Littlepage, chairman of the
men's basketball committee, said in a statement. "In the interest
of sustaining the quality of the tournament, the committee has
decided to maintain the current structure."

The women's committee, in an almost identical statement, also
rejected expansion.

"The committee is committed to the growth of the game and the
championship," chairwoman Joni Comstock said. "We will continue
to work with membership groups to assess, identify and provide
additional and equitable competition opportunities for women's
basketball student-athletes."

Men's committee members considered information about the quality
of competition, logistics, television ratings and the overall
popularity of the event.

After meeting for five days, the 10 committee members determined
the tournament would be best served by remaining at 65 teams.

Thursday's announcement ends, for now, a debate that Syracuse
coach Jim Boeheim started during this year's Final Four.

Boeheim argued George Mason's tournament success was indicative
of the parity in college basketball and argued more teams should be
rewarded for strong seasons so eventual contenders are not left
out.

At the time, Boeheim also said he supported increasing the
number of teams by three to seven.

Last month, however, National Association of Basketball Coaches
executive director Jim Haney told NCAA officials the coaches' group
supported a bracket of 128 teams. One reason, Haney said, was that
more postseason bids would provide coaches with greater job
security.

But Haney acknowledged last week the proposal was unlikely to
win committee approval this year. A message was left by The
Associated Press at Haney's office following the announcement.

Coaches argue that since the last significant expansion, from 48
to 64 teams in 1985, the number of Division I teams has increased
dramatically and that mid-major schools have become more
competitive. A 65th team was added in 2001 when the number of
automatic bids increased from 30 to 31.

They also cited George Mason's postseason success as an example
of a team that could have easily been kept out of the tournament
altogether but still managed to reach the Final Four.

Those arguments did not sway committee members.

One concern among NCAA officials is keeping the men's tournament
and women's tournament, which has 64 teams, on similar formats.

This week's meetings marked the first time in several years
expansion was even discussed, and the committee called it a worthy
topic.

But the committee made no announcement about whether it would
reconsider expansion again in the near future.