Tournaments bring attention to sport
Best teams don't get rewarded
We all know it hurts when a mid-major team falls in its conference tournament and loses an opportunity to make the NCAA tournament, even if the team had a dominant regular season in that league. We also know that some of the conference tournaments have had dwindling attendance in recent years. Regardless, they need to stick around. Not because the men have them. Not simply because of tradition. Conference tournaments need to stick around because they are fun and they showcase the game.
There is nothing like tournament basketball. Survive and advance. These games are better than run-of-the-mill regular-season games because tournament games always have something at stake.
What was the best day of women's college basketball this season? Without a doubt it was the Sunday quadruple-header on ESPN of major conference championship games from the SEC, Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12. The sport was on full display in a way exceeded only by the Final Four. The women's game needs more days like that, not fewer.
Even in the smaller leagues, the tournament brings a kind of attention that doesn't come around in the regular season.
If individual conferences want to change how their automatic bid is determined, they can do that on their own. Or they can give huge advantages with regard to seeding and byes in the league tournament for a regular season well done.
For every Bowling Green -- disappointed on Selection Monday after dominating the MAC for two months but losing its best chance to make the NCAA tournament by stumbling in the conference tournament semifinals -- there is an Akron, which, without the MAC tournament to look forward to, would have had nothing to play for in the season's final two weeks. The Zips, along with the rest of the league, would merely have been playing out a string with nothing at the end. Instead, Akron was given a chance and cashed in on it.
USC was able to change its fortunes in three days in Seattle. Without the Pac-12 tournament, the Trojans' season would have effectively ended in mid-February.
We live in an event society. Conference tournaments stand only behind the NCAA tournament as women's basketball's biggest events. They garner the most attention. There is no Regular-Season Week, but everyone knows Championship Week. Let's make sure it stays that way.
A marathon is run over 26 miles and 385 yards.
At the risk of giving someone with a big office a bad idea, they don't run the first 26 miles, line everyone up again and stage a 385-yard sprint to the line.
It might occasionally prove exciting if they did. It would still be a really bad way to determine the best marathoner.
And yet that's what college basketball does with women's conference tournaments. It's a bad way to come up with the best field for the NCAA tournament. It's an even worse way to treat the athletes involved. But we blithely accept it.
Nine conferences will send multiple teams to the NCAA tournament this season. As usual, that leaves the vast majority of conferences, 23 this season, with only a single automatic bid as a means of entry. With the exception of the Ivy League, all of those conferences give that bid not to the team that proves itself best during the course of months in the regular season, but to the team that wins a few games in a conference tournament.
Eight teams that won outright regular-season conference titles are playing in the WNIT instead of the NCAA tournament. Those teams went a combined 119-21 in conference play. And they had a bad day at a bad time.
A team like Bowling Green went 17-1 in the MAC. It earned its title during two months of work, home and away, good days and bad. It saw all of that negated in 40 minutes of a conference semifinal against a hot-shooting Ball State team in front of an announced crowd of 1,712 on a Friday afternoon.
That's not fair to Bowling Green, Colorado State, Navy or any of the teams that suffered similar fates. It's also not good for a sport that desires more competitive games in the early rounds of the NCAA tournament but does nothing to ensure it actually gets the best teams from one-bid conferences.
Women's basketball has conference tournaments because men's basketball has them. That's it, and that's no better of a reason than it was when your mom asked you if you would jump off a bridge if your friends did first. If rewarding the regular season and getting a better bracket means being different, then dare to be different.