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College basketball: A bigger dance? Timeout, some say

The NCAA's exploration of an expanded Division I men's basketball tournament has touched a nerve among some disapproving schools and conferences.

Critics, including influential Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, are expressing concern about watering down the sport's signature event, devaluing conference tournaments and further eroding interest in college basketball's regular season.

Some complain that the NCAA has moved too stealthily in proposing changes to the 65-team bracket - taking it to 68 teams or more radically to 96 - and shopping them to television networks.

The NCAA is weighing whether to opt out of the final three years of its 11-year, $6 billion contract with CBS. Its decision must be made by this summer. Greg Shaheen, a senior vice president who oversees the tournament and is spearheading the NCAA deliberations, says expansion is merely one area in which it is examining all options.

"I think nobody would disagree that the 65-team, three-week event . . . has worked," says Delany, a former chairman of the NCAA committee that runs the men's tournament. "You have David vs. Goliath. You have all sorts of internal story lines year in and year out. It's compelling. It's one of the great sports properties in the world.

"I have no problem with looking at expansion, whether it's small or big. I only say that issue is one that must be managed openly and transparently, (and) I have concerns that it's not."

Says Texas athletics director DeLoss Dodds: "If they're having discussions about those things, they should be more public and more open so people can weigh in on what the issues are and what the benefits are and what the downsides are.

"I don't know their process, but their process seems to be pretty hidden."

Countering those concerns, Shaheen says he'll brief the last of 31 Division I conference commissioners on the NCAA plan this week. He also has met with the head of the division's faculty athletic representatives association, among others.

"We appreciate the interest and certainly the need for dialogue," he says, "and think, at the conclusion of the process, as we learn more and determine more, the membership in various stages will have been involved."