A Modest Proposal for the Big East Tournament

When the Big East Conference announced that it was adding DePaul to its roster of schools, two primary thoughts came to my mind. First, I was excited to see DePaul reaffirm its long-standing Catholic university rivalries with Notre Dame and Marquette while adding on top notch eastern opponents such as UConn, Syracuse, and Georgetown. My next immediate thought was how great it would be to watch DePaul play in the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden in March every year no matter how the team’s season went.

Well, the second thought is going to be held off until at least next year. The Big East decided to have only the top 12 teams out of the 16-team conference make it to New York for the tournament, which began yesterday. DePaul fell on the short-end this season.

A number of Big East coaches (and not just the ones who aren’t in New York this week) have complained that this format is going to put immense pressure on the coaches that don’t make it to the conference tourney. Plus, every school wants the opportunity to wine and dine its alums and supporters in Manhattan once a year. Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese, however, didn’t want to have a 16-team tourney because he wanted to avoid forcing the top seeds to play 4 games to win the championship.

Tranghese is correct in his concern. The top seeds in the tournaments for the five other BCS conferences only need to play 3 games to win their respective championships. The last thing the Big East wants is for its top teams (who are usually Final Four contenders) to be exhausted heading into the NCAA Tournament.  Yet, there’s a way for the Big East to preserve an advantage for its top seeds and still invite all 16 teams to the Mecca of Basketball: make the conference tournament into a 5-round extravaganza.

Here’s how it would work. The bottom 8 seeds would play in the first round. The 5th through 8th seeds would receive a first round-bye and play the winners from the first round in the second round. The top 4 seeds would get byes for the first 2 rounds and meet the second round victors in the quarterfinals.

This format allows the top seeds to only have to play 3 games to win the championship. At the same time, it gives the bottom teams a chance to participate but they need to run the gauntlet of 5 games to win the tournament. That means that the chances of a fluke team getting the Big East automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament are slim, which is how it should be. Finally, as a fan, think of what the first 3 rounds would be like – 3 straight days of quadruple-headers of college basketball at the highest level!

Under this proposal, the fans get more meaningful games, the bottom-feeders get the opportunity to go to the Garden, the top teams still have the same advantage in terms of the number of games they need to play as they do in the present structure, and the Big East and its members get one more day of television and ticket revenue. What’s not to love?


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