Kansas City, Mo. — The NCAA has met with conference commissioners, university presidents and athletic directors about the possibility of expanding the men’s basketball tournament.
So far, it’s slow going.
The NCAA started talking about expansion in the fall, along with numerous topics in all 88 championships, and hasn’t gotten past the discussion stage yet.
“It’s still a work in progress, so there’s no further developments or status from (the fall),” NCAA senior vice president Greg Shaheen said. “It’s just a series of ongoing dialogues with interested parties, but nothing definitive to even analyze at this point.”
It certainly hasn’t stopped the conversation.
Many coaches and administrators like the idea of expansion and believe its a necessary step to accommodate a growing game. There are more teams than ever — 347 in Division I — more depth in the bigger conferences and more talent at the mid-major level.
Whether it’s increasing the tournament field to 68 (four play-in games instead of one) or enveloping the NIT to make it a 96-team field, more teams are bound to add up to more excitement, the thinking goes.
“If you’re talking about adding more teams, I don’t think the games would change a bit,” Texas Tech coach Pat Knight said. “They’d be just as competitive and I think you’d see more Cinderella stories, more teams people didn’t think had a chance and there’d be a lot more upsets if the NCAA expanded the tournament.”
Another argument is that a larger field would give teams from smaller conferences a better chance of getting in. Giving automatic bids to the regular-season and conference tournament champions would reward consistency while still allowing for surprise.
In the current format, 18 percent of the teams get into the NCAA Tournament and another 9 percent receive invites to the NIT. That’s far below the number of teams that get postseason berths in football: 68 of 120 teams, or 56 percent. By comparison, 53 percent of NHL and NBA teams get into the playoffs, 37 percent in the NFL and 26 percent in baseball.
“It’s worth discussing, but I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone who’s come up with what would be the best formula,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “Football can’t figure it out and they deal with a lot less teams. Just adding a few, there’s a pro and a con with everything, so I don’t know what the suggestion or the formula is. But I do believe it will be expanded in the next decade and I do have feelings that somebody will figure it out.”
Dunleavy steps down
Los Angeles — Mike Dunleavy stepped down as the Los Angeles Clippers’ head coach Thursday, retaining his job as general manager.
Assistant coach Kim Hughes will replace Dunleavy on an interim basis. Dunleavy has led the Clippers to just one winning season since taking over the star-crossed franchise in 2003.
The Clippers abruptly announced the moves in an afternoon news release that said the decision was voluntary and mutual. Los Angeles has lost five of six heading into Saturday’s home game against San Antonio, with another once-promising season in danger of slipping away.
Despite a talented roster including Baron Davis, Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon and Marcus Camby, the Clippers are in 12th place in the Western Conference at 21-28.
Pierce plans Sunday return
Waltham, Mass. — Paul Pierce is hoping to return to the Boston Celtics lineup on Sunday. The team’s leading scorer missed Wednesday night’s 107-102 win over the Miami Heat with a strained left foot, and Celtics coach Doc Rivers doubts Pierce will play tonight against the New Jersey Nets.
Johnson leads at Riviera
Los Angeles — Dustin Johnson shot a 7-under 64 to build a one-shot lead Thursday over Andres Romero and Kevin Stadler at the Northern Trust Open.
Brandt Snedeker, coming off a runner-up finish last week at Torrey Pines, and Ricky Barnes were at 66. Steve Stricker had a 67, and David Duval and Ernie Els were in the large group at 68.
Phil Mickelson thought he might be among the leaders. Going for an unprecedented third straight victory at Riviera, he was 3 under midway through his round. He finished with three bogeys over his last four holes — the exception was a 6-foot birdie putt he missed — and wound up with a 72.
McIlroy shares Dubai lead
Dubai, United Arab Emirates — Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy got off to a good start in his Dubai Desert Classic title defense, shooting a 4-under 68 for a share of the first-round lead. Sweden’s Alexander Noren, South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel, India’s Jeev Milkha Singh, Italy’s Edoardo Molinari and Wales’ Stephen Dodd also opened with 68s on the Emirates Golf Club’s Majlis Course. Tom Watson shot a 73.
Texas donates clothing
Austin, Texas — The University of Texas is sending nearly $300,000 worth of clothing to Haiti to help earthquake victims. The 13,000 shirts and 1,000 caps were produced to celebrate a Longhorns’ victory in the Jan. 7 national championship game against Alabama. Texas lost the game, 37-21. University Co-op spokeswoman Casey Ellis says the shirts retail for $20 each, while the cap price was $22.
Union leader pessimistic
Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith paints a bleak picture of the league’s labor situation.
Smith says the likelihood of a lockout after the upcoming season is “14” on a scale of 1 to 10. He notes that the league recently received a $5 billion extension on its network television deals even if no games are played in 2011. He regards that as proof owners are preparing for a lockout.
Smith reiterated the union’s demand that the NFL’s 32 teams open their books and show who is losing money and how much.
Hall of Famer Dudley dies
Bill Dudley, a Hall of Fame player who in 1946 with the Pittsburgh Steelers led the NFL in rushing, punt returns and interceptions, has died. He was 88. Dudley had a stroke Saturday and was admitted to Lynchburg General Hospital, son Jim Dudley said Thursday. He said his father had not been ill before the stroke.
Verlander deal finalized
Detroit — The Detroit Tigers have invested in their future. Ace Justin Verlander and the Tigers finalized an $80 million, five-year contract on Thursday, a deal that avoids a salary arbitration heading. Verlander’s deal includes a $500,000 signing bonus, $6.75 million this season, $12.75 million next year and $20 million in each of the following three seasons.
Thome signs Twins contract
Minneapolis — Slugger Jim Thome has signed his contract with the Minnesota Twins and has been officially added to the team’s 40-man roster.
Cubs settle with pitcher
Chicago — Pitcher Carlos Marmol and the Chicago Cubs have agreed on a one-year deal.