The NCAA has given the Bahamas exempt status, clearing the way for the island nation to host a new holiday tournament that organizers hope will become the East Coast version of the Maui Invitational.
The NCAA's Division I Board of Directors approved the Bahamas' proposal without discussion over the weekend and the legislation goes into effect on Aug. 1. Organizers already have preliminary plans in place to hold an eight-team tournament of Division I schools over Thanksgiving weekend.
"We, of course, are very delighted the vote went in favor of the Bahamas," said George Markantonis, president and managing director of Kerzner International Bahamas, which spearheaded the tournament. "That enables entities in this country and certainly in our case, Atlantis, to go ahead with their plans for a monster preseason tournament."
Under NCAA rules, a country must have exempt status to host a tournament or the teams playing there will be limited to 27 regular-season games instead of 30.
The Bahamas had a trial run of sorts in December by hosting the Battle at Atlantis, a doubleheader held in a converted ballroom that featured Virginia Tech, Richmond, Georgia Tech and Mississippi State.
Now that the Bahamas has joined Mexico and Canada as countries with exempt status, tournament organizers have started sending out contracts to five schools that had already given verbal commitments to playing in next season's inaugural event, which will be called the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Three other schools will be added, with tentative plans to play the tournament from Nov. 23-27.
"Basketball is the most popular sport in the Bahamas and we'd like to think it's going to stimulate more interest in the country, and that people will come and make a week of it on a long vacation and take in some quality basketball," Markantonis said.
The tournament will limit participation to one team per conference each year and require teams to wait four years before returning. Games will be played in an ornate ballroom that can hold up to 5,000 spectators and was the site of the 2009 Miss Universe Pageant.