March Madness Construction

Coming off the CAA tournament last night, the Richmond Times-Dispatch ran an article today about the financial impact of the tournament to the city… to nobody’s surprise, it leads to an uptick in restaurant and hotel business around the Coliseum for tournament weekend.  Of course, it’s not quite NASCAR weekend (when tens of thousands of visitors flock to Henrico County), but it makes an impact.

So I stand by my comments yesterday that we really can’t afford to lose the tournament.

There are reports that the NCAA is expanding their championship tournament from 65 to 96 teams (possibly as early as next year).

What will THAT do to conference tournaments?  Will they change?

Different conferences do their tournaments in very different ways…

The CAA’s tournament is rather efficient.  The league’s 12 teams all come to Richmond, with the top 4 teams getting byes into the second round.  11 games are played in 6 sessions over 4 days.  The first day tends to be less heavily attended – it’s a Friday, often schools are in spring break, and there are some pretty bad teams in the bottom 8 – but once the Virginia schools get into the weekend, ticket sales pick up.  8455 paid last night – and that’s with ODU (Norfolk) and William & Mary (Williamsburg) playing.  If VCU had made it, there would have been a sellout.

The Atlantic 10 is a similar league, both in quality and size.  They have 14 teams.  Through last year, their tournament was similar to the CAA’s.  They told the 13th and 14th-place teams to stay home, and brought 12 teams to Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City for a 4-day event.  This year, though, they’re experimenting.  Instead of a poorly-attended opening day on Thursday (which had been the traditional first day of the tournament) with the 5th-12th place teams… those teams are playing their opening rounds tonight, with the 5th-8th place teams hosting the games in their home arenas.  This will give the A-10 four sellouts (instead of a couple thousand folks milling at Boardwalk Hall)… but it changes the nature of the event. 

Off the court, it’s one less day the A-10 has to pay for hotels, arena rental, and staffing in Atlantic City.  So they save 25% of the costs, roughly… in this economy, that’d be a good thing for them.

On the court, the old format “penalized” the first-day teams by making them run a 4-game/4-day gauntlet to win the tournament – and rarely, if ever, did that happen (and ask VCU how hard it got by game 3 in this year’s CAA event).  This year, when the second round of the A-10 tournament convenes in Atlantic City on Friday, 4 teams will be on a full week’s rest, and 4 will have played on Tuesday.  It levels the field a bit.  So there’s a good chance that one or more of tonight’s first-round winners will spring upsets on Friday, upsets they may not have gotten last year. 

Upsets, of course, are fun for basketball fans.  They’re hell on conferences, though, as upsets in tournament play tend to remove teams from the NCAA tournament, and cost the higher-ranked schools (and their conferences) money.  This isn’t always a good thing.

The Big East knows that.  They’re a 16-team league, with all 16 teams going to Madison Square Garden for their post-season event.  Now you’d think this would be simple – you have a two-day opening round (since you can only play 4 games a day), then run a standard 8-team bracket on days 3-5.

Nope.  That puts the higher-ranked teams at risk, because everyone plays the same schedule.

So the Big East came up with a creative, and somewhat sadistic, solution.

Today, the bottom 8 teams will play the first round.  Tomorrow, the 4 winners move on to the second round against the middle of the pack (5th-8th place).  Thursday, the 4 survivors continue to the quarterfinals, against the 1st-4th place teams, who will have a one to two day rest advantage over their opponents. 

You can fairly well predict that none of the teams that play today will make the semifinals, much less pull off a 5-day/5-game slog to the Big East final.  And, I suspect, that’s just fine by the Big East.

That said, you have to wonder how long the Big East would be willing to pay a day or two of games that really wind up being meaningless.  Perhaps they’ll be watching the A-10 experiment?  For that matter, would the CAA ever drop the first day in Richmond and play opening round games on-campus?

It’ll be interesting to watch.


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