This was always a predictable time of the year for the Atlantic Coast Conference. The league would stage it's annual postseason tournament and the result would be two-fold: loads of money for member schools and loads of criticism from the rest of the country, which couldn't understand the need for such an event.

How things have changed. By the time the NCAA announces its tournament bracket today nine conferences besides the ACC will have finished a season-ending playoff to determine their NCAA representatives. And national critics of the ACC are strangely silent.

The Southwest Conference and Metro Seven have had a tournament for two years. The Big Eight, Valley, Big Sky and Eastern Eight all started this year. The East Coast, Pacific Coast and Southern conferences have had playoffs for a varying number of seasons. And there is talk that the Southeastern Conference would like one.

These leagues have jumped on the ACC tournament bandwagon for precisely the same reasons the ACC first got into the playoff business in the early 1950s: money, publicity and fan interest.

"The coaches brought up the idea," said the Big Eight's Tom Starr. "We think it will upgrade our national publicity and image, so people won't think of us as just a football conference.

"Look what the tournament has done for the ACC. It's given them tons of publicity. And I think everyone here thinks it might help financially too. That's usually the bottom line in these things."

The Big Eight playoff has had instant success. The final two rounds were sellouts in the 16,000-seat Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Mo. The first round, held at the home courts of the four topseeded teams, attracted about 7,000 fans each.

The league will study the playoff after two years and decide if it should be continued. But at this point, signs indicate a long run.

The same could be said for the Southwest Conference, which is trying to pry itself out of the basketball doldrums.

"The tournament's been super," said the SWC's Bill Morgan. "People are writing about it every week. Before, the season would be over for mostly everyone by midyear, but now there is interest over which schools will finish in the first division."

The SWC gives its regular-season champion a bye until the final game, when the champ meets the survivor of a playoff among the remaining eight schools. Again, the first round is played on the campus of the top-seeded schools, with the last three rounds this year being held in Houston.

"Every coach in the league but Abe Lemons (of Texas) likes it," said Morgan. "We hope it's a money maker for us too. We know its already stimulated fan interest."