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Not all conference tourneys created equal PDF Print E-mail
Written by VT Sports Network News Feed   
Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Source: NESN

Why do many smaller conferences not set up their tournaments to benefit the better teams?

In college basketball, every conference tournament champion gets an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. For the big conferences, it makes sense to hold these tournaments at a neutral location. But for the conferences who will only get one bid, it is much more logical to set up their tournaments to give an advantage to the lower seeds (better teams). Instead, many of these smaller conferences play their tournaments on neutral sites, or they alternate at different schools in the league.

Of the historically one-bid leagues, the following conference will not play their 2009 tournament at the regular season champion’s home: America East, Atlantic Sun, MAC, MEAC Southern, Summit, and Sun Belt.

A perfect example of the potential pitfalls of this scenario is the current America East men’s tournament. This year’s tournament is held at the University of Albany, except the championship game, which is held at the top remaining seed’s home. Albany finished seventh in the America East this season, so they certainly do not deserve to play any home games in the tournament.

Playing at home helped Albany upset No. 2 seed Vermont. In addition, playing on a neutral court helped No. 6 seed UMBC upset No. 3 seed Boston University. Playing games on a neutral court, or even at home, helps the underdog upset the higher seed.

Want some other examples of why this is a bad idea? In the Southern Conference, No. 1 seed Davidson lost in the semifinals on a neutral court. In the Atlantic Sun, the No. 1 seed also lost on a neutral court. Others will follow. It happens every year.

Why do conferences do this? It does not have to be this way. They can play tournaments wherever and whenever they want. Conferences should want one of their best teams to go to the Big Dance every year. A win in the NCAA tournament can help to get an entire conference some recognition. Just look at the Southern Conference and Davidson, or the Patriot League and Bucknell. Obviously one of your better teams is going to have the best chance of pulling off an upset or two.

I particularly like how the Northeast Conference and Patriot League currently run their tournaments. Both of these leagues play every game at the higher seed’s home court. In order to accommodate this, the tournaments are spread out over the course of a week. Not surprisingly, each of these tournaments saw the top two seeds reach the championship game this year.

I believe in this format for several reasons. First, there should be a reward for having a good regular season. Second, conferences should want one of their better teams to make the NCAA tournament. Third, often times these conference tournament games are being played in half-empty (or three-quarters empty) arenas. How does this help you build excitement about your league? I get embarrassed when I am watching a conference championship game with only 52 fans watching it. It’s easy to sell out the Big East tournament in New York City, but try doing the same thing for the Southern Conference tournament in Chattanooga, Tenn.

I am not opposed to upsets in conference tournament games. I am just opposed to giving lower-seeded teams an advantage. A team that finished fourth in its conference in the regular season should just be happy to have a chance to get into the Big Dance. Playing tournaments at neutral sites, with empty stadiums, helps to even a playing field that should not be even. It’s time to start rewarding the teams who performed all season and make it easier for each conference’s best teams to make the NCAA tournament.
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