Already Mad


Much of the nation eagerly awaits Selection Sunday - the field is announced, the bracket comes out, and fans and casuals alike get set for March Madness.

As far as I'm concerned, the madness is already upon us.

With all due respect to the NCAA and the trademark they hold, the madness ensues about as soon as March hits - with conference tournaments. As talk of potential NCAA Tournament expansion dominates the conversation, conference tournaments already create the opportunities that expansion would hope to solve. With most conference tournaments, everyone plays, meaning even a winless team could, in theory, rip off 4-5 wins and make it into the Big Dance. Every fan base enters with hope - no matter how slight. And for the teams that won't make the field of 68 - 80% of Division 1 - the conference tournament is the final hurrah.

Everybody but one team leaves the NCAA Tournament with a loss. A few more get to rounds where they hang a banner, or outperform expectations to a level that leaves the season feeling like a success. But for everyone else, when they season ends, it just... ends. Conference championship week/end ends with 32 victors, each of which has the promise of more basketball, and several more who got to improve their resume and sleep a little better on Saturday night.

Conference tournaments are full of all of the contempt that familiarity breeds. Those who make the NCAA Tournament want to advance, certainly, but the conference tournament is where you can get you last licks in at rivals. They're also easier to attend, as they fall within the geographic footprint (to the degree that such exists) of the conference - or in some cases, on campus. Your east coast team could get shipped to Anaheim, or your southern team may end up in Boise, but there's a good chance you can make it to the conference tourney. And conference tournaments present a tableau to celebrate the league and all of its history, quirks, culture, and yes, even corporate sponsors. So while the Big Dance itself is the goal at a bare minimum, conference tournaments are the heartbeat of the sport.