Some College Coaches Against Holding Conference Tournaments This Year, Here's Why

Some College Coaches Against Holding Conference Tournaments This Year, Here's Why

Mountain West Basketball

Some College Coaches Against Holding Conference Tournaments This Year, Here's Why

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Cons to not hosting a conference tournament

-The magical conference tournament run wouldn’t be possible and the spirit of competition ruined for some. And the money, don’t forget about that.

It was hard to even think of a con for not hosting a conference tournament this year, aside from this. All of the things that normally come with such an event just don’t seem plausible this year, at least maybe not in a uniform way across the country.

Fans filling up arenas would be impossible, with either some conferences or local governments not allowing fans to attend or a small percentage of fans in attendance just not feeling the same as in years past.

Just ask Gonzaga coach Mark Few who has his own unique take on the subject, to go along with his death grip on the WCC conference. “In every league, I think you need to ascertain where exactly your teams are in regard to qualifying for at-larges and what really is to be gained from the league tournament, The Leagues make money off them because of attendance, and there’s certainly not going to be full attendance this year–most of them aren’t going to have anybody. So then it becomes, if there’s no money to be made, then we need to look at: can we qualify? So-and-so needs a win. In our league, ‘Does Saint Mary’s need two more Quad 1 wins to clinch their at-large bid?'”

Any sort of local economic boost that may normally come with fans from all member schools in town seems non-existent this year. If fans are allowed to attend the entire supporting economy to such an event seems crippled with the pandemic. So even given some the host cities with lesser restrictions for fans to attend and spend while there, it wouldn’t compare to years past.

Okay so game atmosphere is gone or lessened, the economic boost that normally accompanies it is gone, broadcasts would still go on so some game day revenue would still find it’s way in. What’s left? Honestly, simple competition for the sake of competition, at least for most conferences.

Some schools in high major conferences are almost guaranteed a spot in the tournament. With that in mind and the money that comes with making the big dance, there is still something to play for and help balance those athletic department budgets. But for smaller schools who’s conference tournament automatic bid being the only path to Indy this year, not unfamiliar to years past, what’s the point.

Aside from the chance to secure that one ticket to the big dance. Another reason being fans from all level of the supporting spectrum and even fans who only watch during March watch this time of year, it is for the sheer competition itself, right? If not why are we still having a season in the first place, no matter how unattractive and strange it may be.

Who doesn’t love the No. 11 seed heading all the way to the conference championship? Who doesn’t love the surprise tournament champion? Who doesn’t love No. 16 seed UMBC beating No. 1 Virginia one year, making history and Virginia coming back the next year to win it all?  Everyone loves that, all of that, that is the point.

So if there was any argument for still hosting a conference tournament to be made, especially given how different it would look, feel and operate, that is it. Simply put, to play the games and try to yield some semblance of normality. Even though this season is anything but normal, just ask the Ivy League.

Does this even sound like a remote possibility at the moment? No, but coaches everywhere are on the front lines of this irregular season. They know better than most and feel that there are already so many differences and changes to how this season has been played, what’s another.

What are Mountain West coaches saying?

When asked by the Idaho Press about the current status of the conference tournament this year, a Mountain West spokesman said, “We are moving forward with the tournament as it stands now. Any changes to the tournament format would have to be agreed upon by the membership.”

So far two coaches have gone on the record regarding playing a conference tournament in this unorthodox season.

Colorado State coach Niko Medved was quoted in the CBS Sports article, with his main concern being the unwillingness of some folks involved to even consider taking conference tournaments off the table down the road or adjust accordingly.

“I think we need to be nimble and don’t think we need to be locked in and saying we have to have these conference tournaments right now, ” Medved said. “We have to be agile and we struggled with that. We’re not into February, and I don’t think it necessarily makes sense for every league to do.”

This all makes sense, especially coming from a Mountain West coach where we all know receiving multiple bids each year is not always certain. For others like Medved’s Rams who could always use the chance to pad the resume with more wins or even win the tournament outright. Staging and participating in the tournament seems like seems like a no brainer. But many folks around the country still feel the number one priority is player and staff safety.

“We might be one of those teams that if would benefit us to play a conference tournament,” he said. “I would say it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have all these teams traveling again, risking it, going to a neutral site to play a conference tournament.”

Boise State coach Leon Rice has also spoken on the subject but has a slightly different take than Medved. Rice doesn’t think the tournament should be canceled altogether. His idea is to shrink the field from all eleven conference members to a smaller number with maybe only true tournament contenders in playing.

“Right now it doesn’t feel like it would be very beneficial or very smart to take 11 teams to Vegas,” Rice said. “There’s just a lot of reasons not to do it in the traditional sense. It doesn’t mean you don’t do it, but you figure out a different way that is going to work better than bringing 11 teams to Vegas.”

This approach has three things in mind, finances, COVID-19 and protecting the teams who have the biggest chance at making the NCAA Tournament.

“I just can’t picture 11 teams in the hotels and doing what we do at the tournament and not exposing ourselves and now all of a sudden if you do all this work and your team comes down with COVID right before the NCAA tournament, that’s a hard thing to stomach and a hard thing to think about.”

This also wouldn’t be unique to the Mountain West as the NEC being one conference that has already shrunk their tournament field to the top-four performing teams this year.

The logic there seems sound, keeping the bottom half of the conference at home to avoid any possible spread of the virus and jeopardize the future of teams who may win the tournament. This goes back to South Carolina head coach Frank Martin‘s statement made to CBS Sports regarding his apprehension with playing in a conference tournament.

“I’ve never understood conference tournaments,” he said. “After beating the living you-know-what out of each other for two and a half months? I get why it’s done. Money. I wouldn’t be against taking a deep breath this year and saying, ‘You know what, let’s utilize that time to try and make up games for the ones we missed and let’s just crown a regular-season champion.”

Martin spoke to Norlander over the phone, in quarantine, while he watched his Gamecocks squad play from home while recovering from his second bout with the virus.

There may be some past hatred of the current revenue aspect in his profession from Martin in that quote. But a couple of key details that could be taken away is his reaffirmation of crowning a regular-season champion and taking the time to try and make up missed games.

Giving the automatic bid to the regular-season champion certainly takes something away from March Madness as a whole. And changing that now would be a huge insult to teams who have a run in the conference tournament in mind. Remember 73% of coaches said they would be in favor to staging a conference tournament still, so not everyone believes the change is necessary.

But to say it is impossible would be silly, especially given the fact that the tournament was just outright canceled last year. I know there has been time to “prepare” by those involved this time around but still, you just never know.

Like coach Medved said, people in charge and involved everywhere just need to stay ready for anything. And like coach Rice added, maybe a different version of the tournament could get the same thing done, that being a conference tournament champion, automatic bid and maybe a couple quality wins for a bubble team for good measure.

Ultimately we may just have to wait and see, as teams enter their conference tournament with plenty of unorthodox variables already in place this year. Some teams have played fewer games than others, some teams like the San Jose State Women’s team have opted out of the tournament, others like the Chicago State Cougars have opted out of the rest of the season already.

While some teams in almost shoo-in situations to make the field on March 14th need not participate and could opt-out still a possibility. Or, return positive results before or during their tournaments and cause a “pause” to the program and ending their season.

There is simply too much that can alter a conference tournament and maybe this is why NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt attempted to keep his quote to Matt Norlander as vague as possible. “We have discussed it briefly and are aware, But that’s as far as I can go to answer this point. There will be some communication probably made at some point to leagues about just what do to with that situation.”

Given this response to the question of, what if a Gonzaga, Baylor or Villanova opt out of their conference tournaments, what ramifications will that have for the selection committee?

For programs expected to be top seeds this year, probably none. But for schools that are just on the bubble for selection, as some in the Mountain West, it may be a resume killer.

Lastly, there is a more human approach to the question, as Ohio State head coach Chris Holtman said “This has been player-driven for us, it continues to be player-driven then I think at the end of the day players are going to want to play every possible game they can play.”

Of course, Holtman and others share this sentiment, but keep in mind his Buckeyes play in the Big Ten. The nation’s best conference, Per KenPom.com this season which may be reaffirmed by Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology projection of 11 out of 14 Big Ten teams making the field.

For whatever reason folks believe they want to play, remember they represented a majority 73% of the vote in favor of playing. So I can imagine we see conference tournaments in March, now what happens after that, who knows. We can only hope that little asterisk next to the year 2020 in record books, that represents the tournament’s cancellation last year is the only one of its kind.

Thanks for reading.

Larry Muniz covers college basketball as a writer for Mountain West Wire and WAC Hoops Digest. Also as a co-host of the college basketball podcast “Hoops Talk W/Jay & Larry”. He is also a USWBA Member.

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