Has the Time Come for the Sun Belt to Axe the League Tournament?
I've been thinking about this for over a year now.
But it really hit me when the at-large bids were announced for the NCAA Tournament. Illinois State won 27 games. They tied for their league championship. They were every bit as good at Wichita State until their tournament final, which the Shockers won handily. And, the Redbirds, despite winning 27 games, were left out of the field.
There are conferences outside the Power Five that get multiple bids. The Atlantic Ten, American and West Coast are three that come to mind.
But for most leagues, including the Sun Belt, it's one team to the big dance. Period.
Now, since 2000, the Sun Belt has gotten an at large bid twice: South Alabama did it and so did Middle Tennessee. But the committee is making it increasingly obvious there's no room at the inn for mid majors. And, I will maintain if the makeup and attitude of the selection folks were the same then as they are now, both the Jags and Blue Raiders would have been bitterly disappointed on Selection Sunday.
UTA won 24 games. They beat a nationally ranked team (and #7 seed in their regional). On the road. By double digits. They are celebrating the chance to go to New York City to the NIT semifinals. That would be a great accomplishment. But that isn't the NCAA tournament. Some would say doing what UTA is doing is better than one and done in the Big Show. Those people are still living in the '80s.
The good news is, the Mavs' run could give them a big head start on season tickets for next year, and they're getting two (unexpected) home games. But they aren't in the NCAA tournament. Moreover, UTA's performance confirms to me what many of us already felt: The Mavs could have done some damage had they been in the bracket.
But they weren't. Because they stubbed their toe in the SBC Semifinals. And the committee didn't care they beat Saint Mary's. After all, they had too many "bad losses." (Which is the excuse the committee ALWAYS uses.)
Last year, Middle Tennessee was being talked about for an at-large if they did not win their conference tournament in CUSA. They won to make it a moot point. Then they got a #15 seed and that sent the message: good thing they won their tournament. Many felt the Blue Raiders would have been in this year as well. We'll never know because again, they won. I have my doubts. Again.
No, it's becoming increasingly obvious the committee will take teams from power leagues with records barely above .500 because they beat some good RPI teams. The committee conveniently forgets teams from other leagues don't get the opportunity to play those schools, certainly not at home.
As I said, I've been thinking about this for a year. Now it's time to say it.
It's time for the Sun Belt to get out of the conference basketball tournament business.
Want to give me a reason to keep it? I'll give you a reason not to:
IT GIVES YOU A CHANCE TO GET TWO TEAMS IN THE TOURNAMENT: No. It doesn't. Not any more. See Illinois State. See other "bubble" teams the last few years.
IT GIVES TEAMS A SECOND CHANCE: And? It also gives your league less of a chance to win once the tournament starts if your champion doesn't win the conference tournament. And in case you weren't aware: winning a game in the NCAA Tournament is worth a lot of money.
THE LESSER TEAMS PLAY HARD BECAUSE THEY KNOW THEY'LL GET ANOTHER CHANCE: Really? Are you suggesting the ninth place team will tank it at the end of the season because they don't have a chance to win? Did you watch ULM down the stretch before the tournament? All they did was play their butts off. Keith Richard wouldn't allow anything less. If your team tanks it, maybe a coaching change is in order.
CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS ARE MONEY MAKERS: That's true in some leagues. Not in the Sun Belt. There is a thought to move the tournament to campus sites, but unless the home team is playing, no one is going. Fans point to New Orleans as the problem. Well, Hot Springs didn't work, either. And, neither will any place else.
YOU GET NATIONAL TV EXPOSURE: Championship week is great for college basketball junkies. But the Sun Belt Final is played while the SEC, Big 10 and American are crowning their champions. Saying there's great exposure is like saying CUSA needs to invite FAU and FIU because of market size.
The Sun Belt Conference has a history of innovation. The three point basket and the shot clock are two examples. Here's another chance to be innovative.
Be the first to say every conference game matters.
Win in January and February. The league will have a better chance to win in March.