Time to take a brief break from the nostalgia. On Tuesday the first conference tournaments in college basketball will tip off and thus starts the two weeks of the season that render the regular season meaningless. The idea that with two weeks left in the season that almost every team in college basketball has a chance to qualify for the tournament is insane. The majority of conferences every team qualifies for their conference tournament. It is technically possible for a team to go winless in its conference yet qualify for the field of 65. What is this the Special Olympics? Everybody is a winner!
First starting with the major conferences…what is the point? Almost every winner in the conference tournament of a major conference was getting into the tournament anyways. Really why should beating a conference team on a neutral court (well depending on where tournament is being played which I’ll get to) matter in qualifying for the tournament? You likely won’t meet another conference team in the real tournament until the Elite Eight or Final Four and typically a team who’s chances of getting into the real tournament are depending on how they play in their conference tournament aren’t going to get that far. Also if a major conference team goes undefeated in conference play, like Duke at the moment, what do they have left to prove? Why should they risk injury in essentially meaningless games for them? For a team like Duke the ACC tournament is almost like an exhibition because they’ve already wrapped up a #1 seed. Can you imagine what would happen if J.J. Reddick were injured in a nothing ACC first round game? Okay that would be worth just to see Dick Vitale openly weep on live television.
Now with the smaller conferences it does a get little more tricky. Defenders of the conference tournaments will say this is the only exposure they get which is a valid point. But what really bothers me about conference tournaments for smaller conferences is a team can have their entire season wiped out by one bad game or a team that has absolutely no business getting into the tournament can have one hot week qualify four the tournament just to get annihilated by a #1 seed. These smaller conferences where they will only get one bid there is always a chance a team with a losing record or just hovering over .500 will get into the tournament just because they won three straight games in early March in their weak conference. By not including the best team from every conference they are just devaluing the overall strength of the real tournament. If you actually included the truly best teams from all these smaller conferences maybe every once in a while we’d get an interesting #1 vs. #16 game.
A glaring problem with conference tournaments is that many are played at the same venue every year thus some teams get home court advantages ever year. Duke and North Carolina will always have more fans in the ACC tournament as its played Greensboro, NC every year. UCLA and USC will always have home court in the Pac-10 tournament as it always played in Los Angeles. It’s ridiculous especially in a conference like the Pac-10 where there is an NBA arena in every region of the conference that would be perfectly capable of hosting the tournament on a rotating basis. Why is there this refusal in most conferences to rotate where the tournament hosted? Sure it’s all about ticket sales but you can’t tell me in each conference there is only one venue that can put a decent number of people in the seats for a tournament.
I’d personally like conference tournaments to go away. You win your regular season title, you should get an automatic bid. If there was a system in place where if there was a tie for a regular season title that they had a one game playoff between the top two teams then that would be perfectly fine. In fact why can’t there just be a conference title game for every conference between the 1st and 2nd place teams (or division winners in conferences like the SEC and Big XII) in every conference this time of year rather than this nonsense where the 11th place team gets to extend its season? For smaller conferences most of them only get their title game televised by ESPN anyways. To be honest I’m not even sure all these small conferences should get a bid but that’s for another entry. But they’re here to stay and ESPN can romanticize them all want but really they’re celebrating how pointless it was to watch the last four months of games.