While the banners are being hung and the floor is being polished in preparation for tomorrow's Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Charlotte, N.C., conference officials are attempting to come up with a workable format for next year's jamboree.
The ACC will welcome a ninth team, Florida State, next year for all sports except football, and the Seminoles' inclusion will force the conference to rework its tournament format for many sports, including basketball.
The league is kicking around a few new formats for the tournament, one of which could give a bye to a last-place team.
The current eight-team alignment -- in use since Georgia Tech joined the ACC in 1979 -- makes for a nice, neat tournament in which every team plays on the first day, no byes are necessary and television is appeased.
However, a nine-team tournament format means that one extra day of play is added, one team receives a bye, and there is one fewer game on the second day of the session, which tends to offend the sensibilities of television.
ACC officials and athletic directors tentatively agreed last month on a four-day tournament format that would have given the regular-season champion a bye into the semifinals. The lowest seeds -- six through nine -- would play each other on the first day.
But, according to sources, ESPN, which carries the quarterfinals and semifinals, has balked at that arrangement because it would lose one of the four quarterfinal games it now carries.
Tom Mickle, an ACC spokesman, said the league's athletic directors and faculty representatives also had expressed concern over that format because the sixth seed, which has won the tournament four times in its 37-year history, would have to win four games to win the tournament.
The other format being discussed would have the regular-season champion meet the last-place finisher on the first day of the tournament, with the winner of that game receiving a bye into the semifinal round.
In the other first-round game, the seventh and eighth seeds would meet for the right to play the second seed in the quarterfinals.
While the specter of the last-place team getting a walkover to the semifinals would be unusual, Mickle said this format's advantage is that only two teams -- the seven and eight teams -- would have to win four times to get the title, as opposed to four teams in the other format.
The other, and less likely, tournament configuration could be a copy of the current Big East format, where the two bottom teams play on the first day with the winner advancing to the quarterfinals to meet the regular-season champion.
Mickle said that format has less favor in the ACC because coaches want to reward the regular-season winner with a bye.