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Monday, July 28
Updated: July 30, 11:50 AM ET
Expect more competitive in-season tourney matchups

By Andy Katz

College basketball got a rare dose of offseason good news Monday night when an Ohio federal judge rescinded the NCAA's 2-in-4 rule.

The decision means tournaments such as the Maui Invitational, Great Alaska Shootout, Preseason NIT, Coaches vs. Cancer Classic and any other in-season exempted event is more likely to include at least one or two marquee teams.

In a 38-page ruling, Judge Edmund A. Sargus ruled in favor of the plaintiffs (Gazelle Group, Inc., Worldwide Basketball and Sport Tours, Inc., Sports Tours International, and Sports Promotions, LLC). The lawsuit was filed by the plaintiffs on Dec. 21, 2000 against the NCAA's 2-in-4 rule, which went into effect at the beginning of the 2000-01 season and restricted college basketball teams to playing in two exempted events over a four-year cycle. An exempted event is any tournament that counts as only one game on the maximum 28-game schedule for Division I teams.

Some schools were grandfathered into the rule, thus allowed to play in three such events over the past four years. And Sargus put off ruling on the lawsuit in July, 2002 to see what effect the 2-in-4 rule would have on exempted tournaments in the third year of the legislation.

Sargus' final ruling said the 2-in-4 rule was in violation of Sections One and Two of the Sherman Act. Sargus said in his ruling that, "The NCAA is hereby permanently enjoined from enforcing the 'two-in-four' rule.'' His ruling means teams are eligible to play in a certified event on an annual basis starting this season, as was the case prior to the NCAA implimenting the 2-in-4 rule in 2000.

The NCAA rule limiting teams to one exempted tournament per season is still in place. Teams also cannot play in an exempted event in the same season that they go on a foreign trip.

"Last season was the turning point," said Bill Markovits, attorney for the plaintiffs. "The judge was looking to see what would happen and he saw what we predicted, and that was a decrease in output and quality of events."

Markovits said the NCAA certified 28 exempted events for the 2002-03 season, but only 17 were able to go forward. The other 11 events weren't able to fill their fields with eligible teams. As a result, the number of exempt games decreased from 251 in 2001-02 to 144 last season. There were 25 exempted events in the 2001-02 season.

Markovits said the NCAA argued that exempted tournaments wouldn't be adversely affected by the 2-in-4 rule. But, he said, that wasn't the case. Calls to the NCAA's attorney, Greg Curtner, were not returned.

The NCAA could still ask for a stay of the injunction, while it appeals. Spokesman Jeff Howard told the Associated Press the NCAA will review the ruling before making any decisions.

"The NCAA thinks the ruling is wrong and it seems that the association through its legislative processes should regulate the season rather than the promoters of exempt contests," Howard said. "It's unfortunate that the decision came at such a late date with much of the scheduling already in place for this season."

For now, tournament organizers are going to move ahead and make plans to fill events. The problem many will face, however, is a number of teams who had used up their exempted appearances prior to the ruling are committed to foreign tours, while others don't have an open date on their 2003-04 schedules.

Alabama already is practicing for a trip to the Bahamas next month and Illinois is going to Europe in two weeks. Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Drake, Siena, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Mississippi State are going on foreign trips, according to Sport Tours International. Michigan, Portland, New Mexico, Oral Roberts and SMU are going on foreign trips set up by Basketball Travelers.

But Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, Cincinnati, Memphis, Stanford and Louisville are all teams that are now suddenly eligible to look at an exempted event this fall.

The Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, which is the opening tournament in New York on Nov. 13-14, will convert back to its original format. Last year, eight teams played one game over a two-day period. Organizers will now invite four teams to play two games over two days, resulting in a tournament winner like two years ago. There is some talk about having teams "advance" to Madison Square Garden by winning on-campus games. But the four likely candidates to be invited or reach New York are Syracuse, Missouri, Wake Forest and Gonzaga.

The Guardians Classic, which debuted in 2002 as a 16-team tournament and had Missouri, Iowa, Alabama and Memphis in a final four in Kansas City, was reduced to an eight-team field last year that produced a final of Notre Dame and Creighton in Kansas City. Organizers say their event will go back to 16 teams with four teams meeting in Kansas City around Thanksgiving. South Carolina, Southwest Missouri State and possibly Kansas are three of the teams being discussed as host sites for the event.

Kentucky, meanwhile, is a possibility to host the BCA Invitational. Xavier was already set to host the BCA Classic.

Chris Spencer, who ran three tournaments in Las Vegas two seasons ago, couldn't field one in 2002. He's working the phones to get at least one tournament in Las Vegas in 2003.

Meanwhile, there is a chance that fields for the Maui Invitational (Ohio State, Santa Clara, Villanova, Central Michigan, Chaminade, Hawaii, San Diego State and Dayton) and Great Alaska Shootout (Duke, Seton Hall, Purdue, Alaska, Pacific, Liberty, Southwest Texas State, Houston) may change as a result of the ruling. Both tournaments could upgrade their fields with marquee teams, possibly replacing a team with a promise to appear in a future tournament. San Diego State and Villanova might be interested in switching due to injuries and eligibility issues, respectively, both of which could hamper them from producing competitive teams in Hawaii.

The Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands has two open spots for marquee teams. The tournament in November has six committed teams (Boston College, Appalachian State, Hampton, LaSalle, Monmouth and Wichita State). It needs to add two more quads for an eight-team field.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

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