With the winner of tonight's Yale at Harvard game clinching at least a share of the Ivy League title tonight alongside conferences championships from the Atlantic Sun, Big South, Ohio Valley, and Missouri Valley being decided this weekend, here's my question:
With the exception of the Missouri Valley, who will likely have an at-large bid provided the championship game is Wichita St. vs. Northern Iowa (maybe two at-larges if someone else wins it), why are these conferences holding a tournament to determine their champion?
Schools like Murray St., New Mexico St., Albany, and NC Central, who either finished undefeated in conference play or with one loss but at least three games ahead of the #2 seed, are now subject to getting it together for two or three more games, possibly on consecutive nights, to then clinch an NCAA bid for a conference they arguably dominated during the regular season. Seems nuts, and the reward for slipping up is a guaranteed NIT bid and little else.
The conferences don't have much to lose. There's a cost for transporting eight to twelve schools, their bands(?) and cheerleaders(?) to a central location or to a neutral site, which is likely being rented at the cost of the conference. For most of these tournaments and conferences, the only time they are on ESPN or ESPN2 is the two hour window they're slotted for. And there is a bit of upside. That conference already has an auto bid in its pocket, that one NCAA tournament credit, whether its sending the regular season champ, the 12th place team or anyone in between. Want to earn that second credit and an awesome amount of publicity for an upset? Send your best team. The one that a power conference school doesn't really want to play during the regular season.
I don't know the easiest way to go about this, but I'd like to see conferences be allowed to declare during the season that their regular season champion or conference tournament champion is going to be the recipient of the automatic bid. ESPN, who ends up airing the conference final for most of the single bid conferences on main ESPN or ESPN2, banks on these two hours blocks for about a seven day period and they also commit resources and equipment for production of these games. I'm sure they wouldn't be on board with this idea, but if you could decide with two weeks left in your regular season how you will decide your automatic bid, with the tournament option strictly being a campus sites option (ie. America East or Patriot League), I think we'd see a better field at the bottom of the bracket.
That, of course, probably kills some of the mystique of championship week for some of you. Would be curious to know what you think.