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Big East may consider tourney changes

| Sunday, March 14, 2010

NEW YORK -- The Big East may be waving goodbye to the double bye for its conference tournament.

When the Big East's movers and shakers meet in May, the current format is certain to be a pressing topic.

"I will be stunned," Big East associate commissioner Dan Gavitt said, "if they don't want to talk about it."

For the second year since expanding the field to 16 teams, the top four seeds in the tournament -- which earn double byes into the quarterfinals -- struggled in their opening games at Madison Square Garden.

This year, No. 1 Syracuse, No. 2 Pitt and No. 4 Villanova all lost, and No. 3 West Virginia needed a last-second shot to advance.

"So much for the double byes, huh," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said after a 50-45 win over Pitt on Thursday night. "I do think there's some advantage to being able to play a little bit."

With the 65-team NCAA Tournament revealed at 6 tonight, the quarterfinal losers have another chance at March glory. Nevertheless, the double-bye format remains a hot topic.

"I'm not a fan of the double bye," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said.

Last year, the top four seeds were 2-2, meaning the teams that supposedly earned an edge with a strong regular season have dropped five of eight against teams that already have a tournament game under their belts.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim opposes the double-bye format, saying it provides a "huge advantage" to teams that already played in earlier rounds. The Hall of Fame coach lobbied to change the format at last May's annual meeting but didn't get enough support.

"We had discussed it pretty in-depth," Gavitt said. "We considered it. Part of the reason we decided not to make any kind of move is that we had just changed from 12 (teams) to 16. We had played one year with that format. If we changed again, it would have been three different formats in three years. There just wasn't enough overwhelming support."

Boeheim's plan called for a revised format in which the top four teams would play the bottom four teams Tuesday -- No. 1 vs. No. 16, No. 2 vs. No. 15 and so on. The winners would be off Wednesday, while seeds No. 5-12 played their first-round games. The bracket would resume with the quarterfinal games Thursday.

Coaches are split on the idea. Boeheim and Huggins are among those opposed to double byes. Pitt's Jamie Dixon and Villanova's Jay Wright say they prefer the current system.

Wright said a double-bye format is favorable because someone can win a Big East title while playing only three games, thus remaining fresh for the NCAA Tournament.

Dixon said the struggles of double-bye teams speaks to the strength of the league, not any disadvantage because a few teams play while the top four seeds sit and wait.

"A double bye had nothing to do with it," Dixon said after No. 2 seed Pitt lost in the quarterfinals for the second year in a row. "It's just a team that's playing well against another team that's playing very well."

Teams with a bye to the quarterfinals are merely average in their first Big East action, going 14-14 since 2004. Whether it's needing to get rid of the jitters or wanting to get their legs under them, a bye can be bad in the Big East.

"There is data to suggest that, for whatever reason, the higher seeded teams that have a day or two off have not fared as well as you would guess," Gavitt said.

Big East athletic directors have the ultimate say on whether to change formats -- and there may be some discussion how the TV contracts should be revised if the top four seeds played Tuesday.

But it's the Big East coaches who will speak loudest.

"If the coaches are very strongly in favor of something," Gavitt said, "certainly something could happen."

Additional Information:

One and done

Here's the record of teams that received a bye to the quarterfinals in the Big East Tournament over the past three years.

Year -- Record

2010 -- 1-3

2009 -- 2-2

2008 -- 1-3

Overall -- 4-8

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