Saturday, March 15, 2008

God and I Agree: Big Conference Tourneys Are a Waste of Time

Last night's SEC tournament was postponed by what the National Weather Service has called a possible tornado. I guess the other possibility is just a "huge, f*ckin' wind." While the league was able to resume the Alabama/Mississippi State game, the Georgia/Kentucky matchup was postponed until today and relocated to Georgia Tech's coliseum, where only players, family, cheerleaders, band, and the press will be allowed in the arena. I'm assuming Ashley Judd will also be allowed in the building as the NCAA has a contract with Kentucky stating that no televised Wildcats games are allowed to proceed without her presence.

The message couldn't be clearer: God does not like conference tourneys. Either that, or he was just going through a practice run for the Atlanta Gay Pride celebration in July. It's always tricky to know for sure with the Big Guy. But assuming it's the contrived preambles to the real tournament that He's upset with, I couldn't agree more- at least as they apply to the major conferences. For the most part, teams in these conference tourneys have a lot to lose and very little to gain (except for a few quick bucks). Take for example, the Pac-10, a conference in which each team plays each other home and away during the regular season to determine a true champion. If the Pac-10 didn't have a tournament, UCLA would probably be a #1 seed in the NCAAs and the conference likely gets six and maybe even seven bids. As things stand today, UCLA is still a #1 seed, but now are without Luc Richard Mbah a Moute for some time, Stanford probably moved up a slot or two in the seeding, but now the Pac-10 looks like a four or maybe five bid league- as Oregon, Arizona, and Arizona State may have all lost their invitations (tho I think the Sun Devils might still be safe).

The tournaments in the major conferences have only been truly significant once in the history of the modern NCAA tournament. That occurred in 1983, when NC State needed to win the ACC tournament to even qualify for the NCAA's, which it ended up winning in a magical fashion. Obviously, that was a great moment in basketball history and the sport and possibly even society (would the V foundation be what it is today without that 9 game Wolfpack run?) is better for it. But keep in mind that in 1983, the reason NC State needed the ACC tourney to qualify for a bid was because the NCAA field consisted of only 48 teams. In today's modern 65 team tournament, NC State's 17-10 overall, 8-6 conference regular season record would have been sufficient to get a bid on its own merits, and the ACC tournament would have still been unnecessary for them to make history. The last major conference team to "steal" a NCAA bid by winning its tournament was the 2005-06 Syracuse Orangemen, and they were promptly ousted in the first round of the NCAA's. But at least we got to celebrate America's favorite gritty white guy, Gerry McNamara, for a few extra days.

For the smaller conferences, these tournaments makes sense- their teams get some exposure on national tv for a week before making their early exit (George Mason, excepted) in the Big Dance. During the regular season, fans aren't going to pay any attention to the MEAC, CAA, or Summitt League. But during "Championship Week" on ESPN, fans do- and then they all decide that someone like Belmont or USD is their upset special when filling out brackets the next week. It also gives players in those leagues an opportunity to experience the joy of winning a tournament on national tv. What do the winners of the ACC, Big 12, and Pac-10 feel after they win their conference tournament? For the most part, I imagine it's relief.

So let's cancel the major conference tournaments and put the extra week to better use. Conferences that don't play a true "home and home" round robin could get closer to doing so. Or perhaps by stretching out the schedule, teams would be able to schedule marquee non-conference matchups in January or February. Or maybe, just maybe, teams could use the extra week to rest up for the "real" tournament and perhaps their players could actually go to class for one week out of the semester.

Ok, that last one will never happen, but the rest are good ideas.

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