Category archive: Illinois Fighting Illini

Lack of conference tourneys is a shame

May, 1, 2009
When I played softball at Northwestern ('07), there was nothing like Big Ten competition. Sure, I loved playing the Pac-10 and SEC teams, but when it came time to play league ball, that was when we got down to business.

The Big Ten now has changed the format of its schedule, playing doubleheaders on Wednesdays (yes, Wednesdays … don't even get me started on that travesty) three or four times in a season and one game on Saturdays and Sundays. Because of this change, the Big Ten has eliminated the conference tournament.

Economic factors usually are the excuse for getting rid of these postseason tournaments, but it doesn't seem like the economy was a main factor in the Big Ten's decision. Illinois coach Terri Sullivan told in November that the decision was not monetary: "The main reason we dropped it was to make what we feel is a better overall conference schedule for the student-athletes."

The Big Ten changed the format to extend the season and so teams could focus more on the next opponent, since teams wouldn't be playing as many games per week and travel would be easier. With that said, I'm still not sure about the purpose or whether there was something wrong with the old format, in which games were played Fridays and Saturdays with a doubleheader on Sundays.

Those were the good ol' days -- simple, intense and competitive. All the coaches' concerns -- being tired, getting rundown and missing class -- are not the things I remember most from my time in the Big Ten. The Big Ten tournaments, however, I remember vividly.

What a shame it is that the Big Ten, Pac-10 and Big West, to name a few, have decided to forgo conference tournaments. Conference tournament games are the best games of the season. How anticlimactic Big Ten league play must be now. Who doesn't want another shot at beating rivals such as Michigan or Ohio State?

I know I did.

The Big Ten tournament also was our last hoorah before NCAA regionals because otherwise, many teams would not have played tournament games since the preseason. And the tournament made for higher stakes, just like in the playoffs -- if you lose, you're in trouble. We needed the games to stay competitive.

Look at the SEC right now. Alabama has played 51 games and Florida 52. The ACC's North Carolina played 54. Northwestern has played 40 games, Michigan 45 and Ohio State 47. Because Big 10 teams play fewer games during the regular season, it would make sense to have a tournament to gain some additional experience going into the playoffs.

The league tournament also gave teams an opportunity to make the postseason when they otherwise might not have. One such case was in 2004, when Michigan State was the No. 8 seed going into the tournament. The Spartans won the whole thing and earned a berth to regionals.

I have never played in this new format, so maybe without the tournament, these teams will be just as prepared for regionals. But I know one thing for sure: None of these players will be wearing a Big Ten tournament ring.