ESPN: Still, for all of the problems with college hoops and for all of the occasional wails that the regular season doesn’t actually matter and that everyone’s just playing for the tournament, I have to say I hear the most obvious one-stop solution being considered the least often:
We need to kill the conference tournament.
OK, so maybe “kill” is a little harsh. “Sunset” might be the friendlier neologism. In reality, I want to keep the conference tournaments just how they are; there’s no reason why a league shouldn’t convene its teams at the end of a season for a quick and fun single-elimination contest. Why not, right? Have some fun, make a buck, let a couple of your bubble teams make their desperate last-ditch attempts at sneaking in the tournament — the good old-fashioned conference tournaments you’ve come to know and love can be preserved in their current incarnation forever.
It’s just that we shouldn’t be awarding automatic bids to the winners of conference tournaments. It’s just profoundly dumb.
Take the Pac-12 last year. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, in reference to the committee’s decision to make Washington the first power-six regular-season conference champion to not receive an NCAA tournament at-large bid, said:
“The decision to exclude Washington was a terrible statement and a signal that the regular season doesn’t matter,” Scott, the Pac-12 commissioner, said.
In fact, the decision to exclude Washington was a perfectly fair statement and a signal that the Pac-12 was terrible last year, because it was. But Scott is driving at something deeper, something we’ve discussed here before: The Pac-12 could decide to award its at-large bid to its regular-season champion. Any conference has that power. The question is, why wouldn’t they use it? Why wouldn’t it be a better thing for everybody over the long term to engage fans from the start of the season to the finish, to hammer home a simple fact: Every single one of these 16 (or 18, or whatever) league games matters. What better way to lend the regular season value?
It’s also, you know, fair. It’s a larger sample size, not one weekend in late March. It rewards teams over the long haul, not teams who can muster their best for 72 hours.
The counterargument, I suppose, is that this system robs the worst portions of these leagues of their last-ditch late-season conference tournament hopes — maybe we’ll get hot and win the conference tournament, everyone has a chance! — and thus disengages fans. I don’t buy that for a second. And also, I don’t care: If you want to engage fans, put a good team on the floor. Stop hoping you hit a gimmicky lottery. Play better basketball.
Hit the nail on the fucking head. Eamonn Brennan has made the best point I have ever heard or read on ESPN. This guy is so spot on it is ridiculous. The regular season champion should get the automatic bid as they proved over the course of 9/10 weeks and 15 games and didn’t get lucky by having an upset create an easy route to the conference tournament championship.
Eamonn is right. If you have to hope to make it to the conference tournament and then catch fire, then do you really deserve to go to the NCAA tournament? Taking a look at the A-10 current standings, teams that barely make the tournament (Charlotte and Dayton), Charlotte would draw an inconsistent UMass team first and would then play La Salle. The same La Salle team that lost to Central Connecticut State, Bucknell, and CHARLOTTE this season. Charlotte actually beat La Salle pretty handedly: by 19 points. Charlotte then gets to play the winner of Butler and most likely Temple. A Temple team that damn near lost to URI at home and a Butler team that has fallen from the #1 seed to the #4 seed in the span of a week. Charlotte did lose twice to Temple but did go into Butler (who was #11 in the country at that point) and beat them. It is not out of the realm of possibilities for a team like Charlotte to make it to the A-10 conference championship and from there anything can happen. That would put Charlotte into the tournament and likely take away the at-large bid for a team like Temple.
That example is exactly Eamonn’s point: Charlotte could fluke their way into the tournament only to get bounced in their first game while a team like Temple, who at times played like a legit tournament team, is relegated to the NIT. It isn’t fair. Charlotte and their RPI rank of 73 wouldn’t deserve to make it over a team like Temple who is ranked 42 in RPI.
For Charlotte, in this example, (or teams who receive similar breaks in their conference tournament) who complain about not getting into the tournament after winning their tournament, here’s your advice: play better during the season. Consistency over the course of a long season should be rewarded and should carry more weight than catching fire after barely squeaking into the conference tournament. I hate to keep picking on Charlotte, because they really are just an example to prove a point, but if Charlotte wanted to make it to the NCAA tournament, play better and win the regular season title. Don’t lose to Dayton and George Washington and St. Bonaventure. The same thing can be said about any team who catches fire late: there will be games they should not have lost but did that cost them their chances at the regular season title. Too bad.