By Shawn Muller-
(CBS) I love college basketball — and I love the NCAA Tournament — but I can’t stand the conference tournaments leading up to Selection Sunday.
Other than giving the fans something more to watch, they prove—for teams from mid-major conferences, anyway—that the regular season, and a teams’ entire body of work, don’t matter one bit.
Don’t get me wrong.
I appreciate the fact that I get to watch some extra basketball before the real tournament starts, but I can’t understand why the winners of these conference tournaments get automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament — especially teams that have no business being a part of the field of 68.
I don’t want to see some sub .500 team from the Southern Conference (for example) that made a magical run in their conference tournament play in the NCAA’s.
Why would I?
They don’t deserve to be in the tournament.
If conference tournaments are all that matter for mid-major schools, why even bother playing a regular season? Just skip the travel costs and skip to the first weekend in March to pick a winner.
After all, all a team has to do is get hot for a four day span to punch their ticket to the dance, while the winner of the regular season conference title (presumably) goes home, assuming they get eliminated, right?
It doesn’t make any sense.
Honestly, if you are the head coach of a school from a mid-major conference, and you ran roughshod through your conference schedule on your way to cinching the regular season championship, would you want to play your best basketball during the regular season if none of it seems to matter anyway?
Better yet, since you probably won’t earn an at-large bid regardless of your regular season record anyway, would you really care about the regular season at all since all that matters is winning four games in March? Why not just concentrate on the conference tournament?
This is basically what Championship Week is saying teams should focus on, isn’t it?
Sure, I think seeing an upstart sneaking in to the Big Dance is a cute little story, and I like to see a “Cinderella” make a run in the NCAA Tournament, but I don’t think it is a cute enough story to justify their being in the tournament at the expense of another team that actually EARNED the right to play due to their entire body of work.
The same goes for teams that played .500 ball from BCS conferences as well.
I don’t want to see a team from a major conference — that finished in the middle of the pack during the regular season — be rewarded with a tournament bid over a regular season champion from a mid-major conference that was eliminated from their conference tournament.
Take Drexel University in the Colonial Athletic Association and the Tennessee Volunteers from the SEC for example.
Heading into the conference championship game last night, Drexel had the nation’s second longest winning streak (19 games), owned a 27-5 overall record, and clinched the regular season conference title with a 16-2 mark in league play.
But, since they lost to Virginia Commonwealth 59-56 in the title game of the conference tournament, they will most likely be on the outside looking in come Selection Sunday.
Tennessee on the other hand—who finished with an 18-13 record overall, and lost to the likes of Pittsburgh, Austin Peay, Oakland, and the College of Charleston during the regular season—will most likely sneak in as one of the beneficiaries of a team like Drexel losing?
Why should that be?
Sure the Volunteers finished with a 10-6 record in the SEC, but that conference was garbage outside of Kentucky and Florida.
VCU—not Drexel– should be the ones getting a look to replace a team like Tennessee on the bubble. That is as far as their reward for winning the CAA conference tournament should go.
The Rams didn’t win the regular season championship, so they shouldn’t automatically be rewarded with a spot in the tournament, and their victory shouldn’t help marginal teams like Tennessee either.
There is no doubt in my mind that the NCAA Tournament is the greatest sporting event in American sports today, but even the best sporting events have their flaws too. And for March Madness, conference tournament winners getting automatic bids to the Dance is college basketball’s biggest flaw.
Shawn Muller has lived in the great city of Chicago for 7 years. He is a 2002 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and, in October of 2010, Shawn received his certificate in radio broadcasting. In his free time, Shawn enjoys spending time with his wife Melissa and 3 year old daughter Ava, catching any live sporting event, and traveling. Check out his radio show, Grab Some Bench with Muller and Bangser” every Thursday night at 8:30 P.M., at www.blogtalkradio.com/spmuller24. Read more of his blogs here.