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Battle 4 Atlantis wants to be top preseason tourney

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) -- The man who runs the resort that stages the Battle 4 Atlantis is ready to make his tournament the best of the preseason college events.

"This is the richest preseason tournament. Period," said George Markantonis, President and Managing Director of the Atlantis megaresort. "Most tournaments don't pay the schools anything. Nothing. Nada. All they do is give them a hotel room and their 22 seats of airfare. We knew there was no way we would be able to convince teams that it's just better in the Bahamas, even if we got that NCAA exemption. There was no way we could just convert a ballroom into a basketball court and say: Trust us. So what you really need is a bit more firepower."

Markantonis went all out.

He is correct about the other eight-team preseason tournaments, the most prominent of which is the EA Sports Maui Invitational, and what they pay participating schools. Airfare and hotel for a traveling party is quite an enticement, but Markantonis has added quite a bit to that.

He said the resort dishes out almost $2 million in prize money. All eight teams get $150,000 just for taking the court.

"The two winners get $200,000 each, on top of the $150,000. That goes to (athletic) scholarships. Most tournaments are zero, and along comes Battle 4 Atlantis, and the winners get $350,000," he said.

Tournament director Lea Miller said the payout continues so that the third- and fourth-place teams get another $50,000 each and the fifth- and sixth-place teams get another $25,000. All the money goes to the school's athletic scholarship funds.

This year's final saw Duke beat Louisville and the field included two other ranked teams - Missouri and Memphis.

The schools sign a confidentiality agreement about how much they receive from the Battle 4 Atlantis and other tournaments.

"We had to go meet with these coaches and teams. We had to win the vote. It was no slam dunk as a nation we'd get exemption status. You don't get that, nobody gets here," Markantonis said. "And not every team wants to come where it's the top eight seeds in the nation. You have to get some sleepers and Cinderella teams."

Miller spent a year working to get the exempt status for the Bahamas from the NCAA's Division I Board of Directors. In January 2011 the exemption - meaning the teams count the entire tournament as one game against their scheduled 27 - was given making the Bahamas, Canada and Mexico the countries with exempt status. Participation is limited to one team per conference each year and require teams to wait four years before returning.

Once the exempt status was given, Miller started on the fields. Harvard won the inaugural tournament in 2011 and then came this year's group which looked a lot like an NCAA tournament subregional.

The games are played in a ballroom turned basketball court. To meet NCAA requirements for ceiling limit, chandeliers had to be removed, something you don't hear at most events.

One thing that makes Atlantis different as a site is the cost. Sodas are $4 and burgers run $6. And there is a casino which sits in the middle of the resort and has to be passed through by almost all guests.

The 4,000-room resort was sold out for the weekend, Markantonis said. NCAA-brand T-shirts sold out in the first five hours and the demand was so heavy that the resort took orders and paid for the shipping to have them sent to the United States.

"We have another monster (field) to finalize for next year," Markantonis said.

On the night of the Duke-Louisville championship game seven of the eight teams in the 2013 field were announced.

Kansas, Villanova, Wake Forest, Tennessee, Southern California, UTEP and Xavier were revealed with the eighth team to be announced at a later date.

Miller says she has the fields for the next four tournaments practically set, mostly waiting for the conference realignment to settle.

Steve Skinner, the Chief Executive Officer of KemperLesnik, which owns the Maui Invitational, said the company doesn't talk about financial aspects of tournament.

"We rely on 30 years of our history with great fields and great competition," he said. "We have been very fortunate with marqee programs.

Illinois beat Butler in this year's Maui Invitational final and next year's field will feature Syracuse, Gonzaga, Dayton, Arkansas, Baylor, California, Minnesota and Division II Chaminade, the host school.

"We have a long-term deal with ESPN into the future," Skinner said. "We have always focused on delivering a great basketball tournament."

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