Indianapolis The road to the Final Four will have a new look next season.
On Thursday, the NCAA’s board of directors approved expansion from 65 to 68 teams and endorsed a proposal to add three more opening-round games to the schedule. It’s only the second time in a quarter-century that the NCAA has increased the number of teams competing for the men’s national championship.
Now it’s time to start mapping out the details, which could include putting at-large teams in the early games.
“The (men’s basketball) committee will have to study any variety of options and certainly the notion of looking at options involving the last at-large teams in would be one possible option,” NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen told The Associated Press. “We would expect the committee to examine all of the options.”
The decision was not a surprise.
NCAA officials recommended the 68-team field last week after the public loudly complained that going to 80 or 96 teams would water down the NCAA’s marquee event, and network executives insisted they did not need more tourney games to make a profit on the next television contract.
So the NCAA backed the most modest expansion, at least for now. The board gave unanimous consent to the 68-team field with a caveat — it wants the “play-in” games to have more significance.
“Expanding to 68 teams gave us an opportunity to involve more teams in the championship, and in doing that, we were able to enhance the experience of the opening-round game,” Clemson president James Barker, the committee chairman, said in a statement.
It’s the first time since 2001, when the NCAA added one team to the 64-team team field that it has expanded. The NCAA went from 48 to 64 teams in 1985.
More teams won’t be the only change fans see next March.
Thanks to the new 14-year, $10.8 billion television package with CBS and Turner Broadcasting, also announced last week, fans can choose which games they want to watch. It will be the first time every tourney game will be televised live nationally.
N.C. State forward declares
Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina State’s Tracy Smith has declared himself eligible for the NBA Draft, though he hasn’t hired an agent and could return for his senior season.
The 6-foot-8 forward led the Wolfpack with 16.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game last season. The second-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference pick led the league by shooting 65 percent from the floor, helping N.C. State reach the second round of the NIT.
Woods opens with 74
Charlotte, N.C. — Tiger Woods delivered a few memorable shots of his own Thursday at Quail Hollow on a pleasant day that produced birdies and eagles and plenty of excitement. It’s just not what he had in mind.
He hit a tee shot into the water on the par-3 17th that produced little reaction except to hold out his hand for another ball. He hit his next tee shot into the water and had to scramble for bogey. And he wound up with a 2-over 74 that left him nine shots behind Bo Van Pelt (65) and ended his streak of 21 rounds at par or better.
For everyone else — Masters champion Phil Mickelson included with his 70 — there was so much more. Kenny Perry opened with a 66, and Camilo Villegas had a 67.
Miyazato leads in Mexico
Morelia, Mexico — Ai Miyazato is trying to spoil Lorena Ochoa’s going-away party. Miyazato, the Japanese standout who won the first two events of the LPGA Tour season, shot a 10-under 63, the best round of her career in relation to par, to take the first-round lead in the Tres Marias Championship.
Spanish rookie Azahara Munoz opened with a 65, and the top-ranked Ochoa, who will retire after the tournament, matched Michelle Wie with a 66.
Kings’ Evans rookie of year
Sacramento, Calif. — Sacramento point guard Tyreke Evans beat out Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Milwaukee’s Brandon Jennings to win the NBA Rookie of the Year award.
Evans received the honor Thursday after becoming the fourth rookie ever to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game. He joined an illustrious club that includes Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
Evans was the fourth pick in last year’s NBA Draft after spending one season at Memphis. He led all rookies in scoring at 20.1 points per game, was second in assists at 5.8 per game and fifth in rebounds at 5.3
Nene has sprained knee
Denver — The Denver Nuggets flew to Salt Lake City on Thursday without injured center Nene but relieved that their big man only has a hyperextended left knee and not a torn ACL as feared. Nene might even be able to play Sunday night if the Nuggets can beat the Utah Jazz in Game 6 tonight and force a Game 7.
Eagles sign QB Kolb
Philadelphia — The Eagles have signed quarterback Kevin Kolb to a one-year contract extension that could keep him in Philadelphia through the 2011 season.
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman made the announcement in a statement Thursday. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Kolb spent his first three seasons with the Eagles behind Donovan McNabb, but stepped in when McNabb was injured in the season opener last year at Carolina. The 2007 second-round draft choice promptly became the first NFL quarterback to throw for 300 yards in his first two starts.
Seahawks LT Jones retires
Seattle — Seattle’s “Big Walt” is finally saying goodbye. Seahawks four-time All-Pro Walter Jones has retired after 13 years in which he became the standard to which all left tackles aspired — and most defensive linemen succumbed.
The 36-year-old Jones made the announcement in a team news release Thursday. The Seahawks are immediately retiring Jones’ number 71 jersey. This had been expected for months. Jones hasn’t played since Thanksgiving Day 2008 and has had two knee surgeries in that span.
SEC addresses expansion
Montgomery, Ala. — Southeastern Conference coaches aren’t in any rush to expand. LSU’s Les Miles says expansion would make it difficult to set up schedules fairly, and he hopes it doesn’t happen anytime soon.
Georgia coach Mark Richt says other power conferences are more likely than the SEC to expand.
There has been talk of expansion from both the Big Ten and Pac-10, and SEC coaches fielded expansion questions during a teleconference Thursday.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive says the league would consider expanding if it’s necessary to maintain its position because of significant growth in other leagues.
Alabama coach Nick Saban says a lot of teams would be interested if the SEC grew to 16 teams.
Earnhardt to drive No. 3
Mooresville N.C. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. will drive a replica of his father’s No. 3 Wrangler Chevrolet in the Nationwide Series race at Daytona in July.
The car unveiling was done Thursday at JR Motorsports on what would have been the seven-time NASCAR champion’s 59th birthday. He was killed in a 2001 accident at Daytona, and his number has not been used in the Sprint Cup Series since.
Earnhardt Jr. drove the No. 3 twice in 2002 in NASCAR’s second-tier series.