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      68-team field gives NCAA committee new challenges

      INDIANAPOLIS (AP) " Gene Smith never expected selection weekend to be this tough.

      Three more at-large bids were supposed to make the selection process a little easier and the criticism a little lighter. They didn't.

      Having four first-round games instead of one was supposed to make the seeding process more complicated. It didn't.

      Instead, the selection committee chairman and the other nine voting members were scrambling to figure it all out Sunday.

      "The last teams in and comparing them and really vetting the qualities of those teams, there was a lot of discussion because there were so many teams to consider," said Smith, the Ohio State athletic director who led the committee. "We just had a lot more teams that we were scrubbing from that perspective. Usually, you have two or three teams that you feel bad about leaving out. This year, it was seven or eight."

      Whether they got the first 68-team field in NCAA history right depended entirely on one's perspective.

      Smith insisted the committee did.

      Most analysts disagreed. ESPN's Jay Bilas was so upset about Alabama-Birmingham and Virginia Commonwealth making the field that he questioned whether some committee members even knew a basketball was round.

      There was plenty to debate.

      " Georgia made it in, but Alabama, which beat Georgia twice this season, was left out.

      " Colorado and Virginia Tech, who many thought had done enough to warrant one of 37 at-large bids, didn't make it, either

      " Even Harvard's compelling resume and storyline weren't good enough.

      What made this week especially difficult were all the new wrinkles. When the selection meetings convened Wednesday, Smith realized they were more teams on the board than in previous years and that the last seven or eight of those teams were all good enough to merit serious discussion, even into Sunday when they were waiting on the results of four games to end.

      "It was comparing the last seven or eight because there were quite a few teams that we had that were very good teams," Smith said.

      And the record number of Big East teams (11) made it difficult to follow the guidelines about not pitting conference teams against one another until the regional finals. The committee finally decided to split up the Big East teams that played twice during the season in favor of pairing up teams that had only played once.

      And those were the kinds of things Smith and his committee contended with all week.

      "We had a lot more teams that we were scrubbing, and then from a seeding point, we scrubbed on Saturday, but we did a lot more Sunday," Smith said. "That was a little bit longer for me than we typically had done. For me, it was tougher."

      Smith repeatedly was asked to cite specific reasons for inclusions or exclusions. Finally, he explained the committee simply ran out of spots. That begged the obvious question: Is additional expansion needed?

      "I'm real comfortable with the size of the field that we're blessed to have. As we went through the debate last year nationally and got feedback from all the different conferences relative to expansion, the feedback was loud and clear," Smith said. "We ended up where we are with 68 teams, the opportunity for 37 at-large teams. I do not anticipate it will be something that will happen in the near future."

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