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Tuesday October 24, 2000

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Pac-10 votes to revive basketball tournament

By Keith Carmona

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Olson, men against tourney; Bonvicini happy for publicity

Like it or not, March Madness is going to start a week earlier for the Arizona basketball teams beginning in 2002.

A vote passed by the Pacific 10 Conference Chief Executive Officers yesterday assured the re-appearance of the postseason tournament for both the men's and women's basketball teams.

While the conference hosted a men's tournament from the 1987-1990 seasons, there has never been a similar event for women.

Arizona's dissenting vote yesterday, cast by President Peter Likins, mirrored the view that the UA athletic department has shared about the men's tournament all along. Likins' decision was influenced by UA Athletic Director Jim Livengood, who voted against the recommendation of the tournament three weeks ago.

In a statement released by the Arizona men's basketball office, men's head basketball coach Lute Olson voiced his concern regarding his players' education.

"Our objection has always been the loss of additional class time at a key time in the semester," he said. "I've always felt that 18 conference games is enough. Frankly, I think that we need to look at a format like the Big Ten has with a 16-game conference schedule."

Both tournaments will begin following the 2001-02 regular season, with the men's tournament being held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and the women's rotating among conference schools.

Arizona women's basketball head coach Joan Bonvicini is in favor of the tournament and said that there are no negative aspects about it.

"The Pac-10 women's teams don't get enough media attention, and that's exactly what this tournament will do for us," she said. "It will also simulate the NCAA tournament in the sense that it's 'one and done,' so it will help us prepare for that as well. The Pac-10 women's coaches voted 10-0 in favor of it and are very, very excited about starting it up."

Only the top eight teams in the Pac-10 will be eligible for the men's event, but every conference school will participate in the women's tournament. The eventual winners will receive the Pac-10's automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.

Proponents of the conference tournament believe that it gives teams on the cusp of reaching the NCAA Tournament a chance to garner a few extra wins, increasing their odds to make the postseason.

UA men's associate head coach Jim Rosborough feels that the best teams in the Pac-10 are going to dominate the tournament, so there is no use in essentially re-playing the conference schedule.

"There is not one logical reason that anyone can come up with for having a tournament other than for the money," Rosborough said just after the tournament proposal was made. "It is the single biggest sham in college basketball now, that's my view."

The panel of voters, comprised of the presidents and chancellors of each of the schools in the Pac-10, needed eight votes to pass the initiative. Likins and Stanford President John Hennessy cast the only two dissenting votes.

The outcome of the vote turned on the UCLA ballot, considered a swing vote. The Bruin athletic department initially was opposed to re-establishing the tournament, but recently voted in favor of sending the proposal to an official vote.

Though Arizona has been categorically opposed to the men's tournament since talks of re-establishing it began, Livengood said that there will be no "sour grapes" on the part of the UA athletic department.

"We've been united in our stance against it all along, but now that it is in place, we'll go ahead and support the decision of the conference," he said.

"Arizona will go to Los Angeles and compete with the other schools because there's no reason to for us to protest this. History shows that both teams have done well in conference play, so success in the tournament should come as well."

The fact that the postseason tournament gives bubble teams one last shot at knocking off conference powerhouses like Arizona doesn't concern UA assistant coach Josh Pastner.

"Obviously, we're not for the tournament, but since our program consistently performs at a very high level, it is not something that we're too worried about," Pastner said. "If we go out and do well in the Pac-10 tournament every year, we'll give the NCAA Tournament selection committee even more reason to give us a higher seed."