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Monson: Dump league tourneys — for good of college basketball

Published March 13, 2014 4:16 pm

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This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Get rid of conference tournaments.

That seems like a bit of college basketball blasphemy, especially for those money-grubbers whose pockets are filled on account of them, but it's an idea whose time has come. Just because it won't come — cash rules everything in college sports — doesn't mean it shouldn't.

The tournaments are tired, redundant and competitively unfair.

Other than that, they're great.

They are promoted as hoop celebrations, but they hurt the college game in a major way.

Every good coach in America knows it. Every fan knows it, at least deep down, somewhere under 10 layers of hype.

Those tournaments sometimes create cool moments, when a last-minute game-winning shot snaps the net, or when a terrific individual performance is posted, but they really are concocted events carrying much more significance than they should.

Think about it: Why should the entire league regular season be reduced to little more than a means to seed teams for a four-day postseason tournament? At many conference tournaments, there's not even any kind of home-floor advantage for a regular-season champion. Just a number assigned that presumably offers an easier path to the title, but often those edges are negligible.

In the case of smaller leagues, a tournament eclipses everything that came before, transforming a season's worth of work, with the winner moving on to the NCAA Tournament. A team's regular-season championship means squat.

In the case of bigger leagues, most of the teams that deserve to go dancing have already proved it through earlier games. A few pieces might be moved around by way of the league tournament, but why is that a good idea?

In both cases, teams that may have underperformed all season hit a big shot or two in the conference tourney and suddenly some sort of redemption is found.

That argument could be made to denounce every playoff scenario in every sport in college and in the pros, but there are differences. The NFL, for instance, has a fantastic postseason, and in that league champions play the entire regular season and then face a game-by-game, do-or-die playoff grind en route to their titles at the end. But conference basketball tournaments add another unnecessary layer on the path to the NCAA Tournament. It would be like the NFL having postseason playoffs among teams within each and every division before moving on to the rest of the postseason, all of which would compromise the regular season even more.

The conference tournaments seemed like a good idea at the time. Modeled mostly after the ACC's original, which started back in 1954, they came on strong — some leagues held out for an extended period — in subsequent decades, with conferences everywhere eventually jumping aboard. The idea was fresh — at first. The parties attendant with the play were a gas for basketball fans. There's a reason presently there are four league tournaments — WCC, WAC, MWC and Pac-12 — held in Las Vegas.

But a good time doesn't equate to good competitive reason. For a team in a one-bid league to go 18-0 in the conference regular season and then lose on an off night to an 8-10 league opponent and get eliminated from a slot in the NCAA deal is something other than just. For a seven-bid league, the entire exercise is redundant and kind of silly. In the ACC, regular-season champs aren't even officially recognized. The league champion is the ACC tournament champion, end of story.

The conference tournaments, then, extend the NCAA Tournament from an already bloated field of 68 entrants to a field of hundreds. Teams in every league essentially are in the big dance. Everybody's in the pool. If they go undefeated in their postseason, they win the title. That's like every team in the NFL or NBA or MLB, be it 16-0 or 0-16, 82-0 or 0-82, 162-0 or 0-162, qualifying for the playoffs.

It's too much.

It might be exciting, in the last moments, but it diminishes the regular season to … what, exactly? A race toward a sequence of seeds in tournament play? No wonder so many sports fans every year care so little about college basketball until March.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone.