Threat of war won't affect NCAA tip-off

Basketball tournaments to begin on time, says NCAA president Brand

Homeland Security consulted

129 men's, women's teams playing at 25 national sites

College Basketball

March 19, 2003|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

NCAA president Myles Brand announced last night that the Division I men's and women's basketball tournaments will begin as scheduled this week, regardless of whether the United States goes ahead with its plans for military action against Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

In a national teleconference from the NCAA's headquarters in Indianapolis, Brand said that the decision to keep playing was reached after discussions with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and with the unanimous support of the NCAA's executive committee and the Division I board of directors.

Even if the U.S. military begins bombing Iraq sometime after tonight's deadline, as President Bush said it would if Hussein and his sons defy orders to leave the country, Brand said that the various NCAA championships would continue without interruption.

"We will go forward with our plans to play the games when and if war breaks out," he said. "We are prepared to do that on schedule in our normal venues. The overriding consideration was that we were not going to let a tyrant determine how we lead our lives."

While Brand said the decision to play was met with enthusiasm from government and NCAA officials, it was done after much deliberation.

"The fact is that we've been looking at alternatives for the last four months and studying the process carefully," Brand said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the young men and women who are in the desert and elsewhere defending our freedom. We wish them the very best."

Brand said that the logistical problem of rescheduling games and rebooking venues was not a deciding factor.

"We were first concerned with the safety of the student-athletes. ... We were concerned with the safety of the fans," Brand said. "We wanted to be assured, and we were, that Secretary Ridge and the leadership in the White House was comfortable with the tournament going forward, and indeed they were."

Asked if any event could interrupt or cancel the tournaments, Brand said, "Extraordinary things may happen in the future, totally unknown to us. We cannot deal with those hypotheticals now. From everything we know, based on President Bush's announcement of possible action in the next couple of days, we are convinced that this is the best course of action."

Brand said that extra measures will be taken to protect the security of those involved in the events as well as attending them "to ensure that [they] will be safe as they possibly could be."

Attendance at the tournament sites should not be impacted by the war, Brand said.

The NCAA men's and women's championships involve 129 teams at 25 sites around the country (including the men's play-in game last night in Dayton, Ohio). First-round play begins tomorrow for the men, Saturday for the women.

"Judging from past crises our country has faced, people understand that we will go on," Brand said. "Nonetheless, they will have in the back of their minds the concerns and anxieties that come when a country faces war."

Greg Shaheen, managing director of the Division I men's basketball championship, said that no request has been made to designate the Final Four as a national security event, as was the case with the 2002 Super Bowl in New Orleans as well as the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.

In those instances, the Secret Service and components of the U.S. military supervised the security for those venues.

The men's Final Four is scheduled for April 5 and 7 in New Orleans. The women's Final Four is scheduled for April 6 and 8 in Atlanta.

There had been talk earlier in the week that the men's tournament might be interrupted after the first-round games tomorrow, and that teams could be left stranded in those cities waiting out the delay. That scenario now seems unlikely.

Had the tournaments been postponed, it could become a logistical nightmare to find availability for venues, even if the games were delayed a few days.

Jim Delaney, the director of marketing and public relations for the FleetCenter in Boston, said yesterday that rescheduling the men's first- and second-round games could present a problem.

"Obviously in bigger markets in a major venue that is packed [with previously scheduled events], especially at this time of year, the dates would be tough to come by."

At least three other NCAA men's tournament sites, and one women's site, would be similarly impacted should there be an interruption because of conflicts with pro teams, including the Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville, Tenn., where defending national champion Maryland plays Friday.

CBS has yet to announce its plans on televising the men's tournament, for which it will pay the NCAA a reported $6 billion over 11 years. A CBS representative said that it would be possible to switch its coverage to other Viacom-owned networks: MTV, VH-1, Nickelodeon and TNN. CBS is also negotiating a deal to broadcast men's games on the ESPN networks.

The women's tournament is being telecast on ESPN.

Wire services contributed to this article.

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