The school-managed exempt tournament is going extinct. The proliferation of corporate-owned events, including those put on by ESPN, have made sure of that. But out on the Last Frontier, the last holdout is conducting its last event on its own: The Great Alaska Shootout, organized and hosted by the University of Alaska-Anchorage, goes until Saturday, with its champion being the final team to win the tournament before Basketball Travelers takes over as managers next season.
The 50-plus-year-old tradition of exempt tournaments started when schools off the U.S. mainland needed to have an incentive before teams would schedule visits, and for a long time it stayed on an island floating off the coast of the NCAA landscape. But when eccentric Louisianan Bob Rachal took over the UAA men’s basketball program during its inaugural year in the NCAA’s Division II in 1977-78 – donning a tuxedo and top hat in his first game on the sidelines – he found that metaphorical island and used it to his advantage.
“He wanted something that could make a splash, something that could get the program on the map, so he dug around in the NCAA bylaws and he found out that you could host basically free games held under the exemption for any teams playing in Alaska or Hawaii at that point,” Seawolves sports information director Nate Sagan said. Well, not quite free, but close enough: A tournament of up to four games could count as one game against the NCAA’s limit of contests per season.