Utah Valley men’s and women’s basketball teams recently went to the conference tournament with an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament on the line. During my time spent at this tournament, I was able to reflect on the season the teams had, how I had a distain for the conference tournament and how the WAC can do better.
The conference tournament took place at the Orleans Arena, just west of the famed Las Vegas Boulevard. The tournament had just started, as the West Coast Conference had ended in the same arena, with the Pac-12 and Mountain West tournaments going on at the same time. Vegas had been taken over by college basketball.
Because there were so many games and tournaments going on, priority to watch WAC basketball fell to the bottom; even local news outlets went to other conference games instead of UVU’s. Since the WAC is looking to remain legitimate, they should consider hosting the tournament at an arena that they will fill out.
It was embarrassing looking around a mostly empty arena that has a capacity of 7,471 and maybe 1,500 in attendance. The WAC actually thought they would sell the place out. For me to have been at every home game for UVU and seeing that it took a good portion of the season to pique the interest of the people, I imagine it was the same at the other schools, if not worse, because some of the teams have really small arenas and subpar teams.
Sure, Vegas is a great place to be with a lot of things going on, but making the trip can be costly, long and a distraction for the players. There should be some sort of reward for winning the conference trophy. My suggestion to the WAC would be to host the tournament at the regular season champs arena. Many conferences that are known as the “mid-major” conference do this and have much success, including, here locally, the Big Sky Conference that helped the Wildcats of Weber State go dancing in the NCAA tournament.
The regular season champ should have an advantage. As a conference, you want to send the best team from your conference to the big stage. By having an automatic bid attached to the conference tournament, it almost makes the regular season pointless. What is the point of playing 16 conference games to see who was the best just to have all teams equal again at the end?
This format is just not exclusive to the WAC, but all conference tournaments. The tournaments themselves make the regular season pointless. A team can have a terrible season and make the prestigious national tournament. For example, Cal Poly went 10-18 in the regular season, won the Big West Conference tournament with a 6-10 conference record and went dancing. UVU went 19-10 in the regular season, 13-3 in conference, won the conference championship and still ended in the NIT.
One other small gain for those schools that would potentially host a conference tournament would be getting some revenue from the event. That is a small contribution to the best team of the conference in a small and possibly significant way.
Something definitely needs to change to get the best 68 teams in the national tournament. I don’t think the automatic bid from a conference tournament really helps get the best teams there. It says to the teams: have a bad regular season and get on a hot streak and make this “prestigious” tournament and make your team known. Cater to the best team in your conference and get them to the tournament and make it mean something to be a conference champion.