The NCAA Division I basketball committee intends to expand the national championship tournament field from 53 to 64 teams by 1985, it has been learned.
As a result, all 29 conferences that had automatic bids last season would keep them through at least 1987 as part of a compromise approved Tuesday by the NCAA special committee on Division I criteria, meeting in Chicago.
The compromise, pending approval by the Division I basketball committee and a vote at the NCAA convention in January, apparently brings peace to the three warring factions of the 277-member division. At the last convention, a coalition of basketball-only schools and I-AA football schools overwhelmingly defeated a proposal that could have cost up to 63 basketball-only schools Division I status.
Under the new plan, the 96 big-time football schools (Division I-A) will be appeased by likely getting most, if not all, the additional at-large basketball tournament berths and virtual voting autonomy in all Division I matters except championship events. The other schools will keep their Division I status and conferences initially will retain automatic bids.
After three years, the basketball committee would study criteria for retaining automatic bids, possibly imposing attendance and performance standards. But no attendance requirements would be retroactive, as was proposed last time. Big East Conference Commissioner Dave Gavitt, chairman of the Division I basketball committee, was unavailable for comment.
"This should, except for a handful, make them (I-A schools) happy," said Cecil Coleman, commissioner of the Midwestern City Conference and a behind-the-scenes leader in the compromise. "It will take care of 'determining their own destiny.' "
At the last NCAA convention, Coleman's forces defeated a proposal that would have based determination of Division I status for schools not playing Division I football on minimum attendance figures and total financial aid awarded to all athletes.
Among the local schools that could have been disenfranchised from Division I were American, George Mason, Howard and George Washington, whose conferences all have automatic bids.
"We read loud and clear that the defeat of Proposition 71 meant that people did not want to be disenfranchised from Division I," said Jack Davis of the University of Oregon, secretary-treasurer of the NCAA and chairman of the special committee.
The key element in the compromise was the basketball committee's decision to consider a 64-team tournament. "The committee's intent is to expand to 64 teams in 1985 unless major developments cause it to be impractical," the committee decided, according to minutes of a July meeting made available to The Washington Post.