If teams ‘opt out’ of conference tournaments, impact could linger beyond 2021 and COVID-19

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When the Houston Cougars full the navigation of this daunting, circuitous however magnificently profitable common season, there will likely be little for them to perform within the American Athletic Conference championship match. Another title, positive. One by no means can have too many trophies. But the NCAA Tournament will likely be standing behind that occasion, beckoning, all of the whereas warning that nothing else good will come from including to the regular-season title that’s all however assured.

Houston could be upset and maybe drop a seed line within the NCAA bracket. One of the Cougars could be injured. Worst of all, nevertheless distant the chance could be, somebody within the group social gathering could encounter a case of COVID-19 which may not have developed again dwelling.

So why would the Cougars hassle to play within the AAC Tournament?

“We’re part of the American Athletic Conference,” head coach Kelvin Sampson informed reporters Wednesday. “On our schedule, it says at the end of the regular season, the conference tournament starts on Thursday.

“We do not sit right here and say, ‘Well, we expect we have a great likelihood to make the match; we do not wish to mess this up.’ Nope. That’s not what it’s. We have an obligation to play this conference match as a result of we’re half of the conference.”

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If everyone in college basketball were to articulate that approach, the discussion would end there.

However, the notion of “opting out” of conference tournaments has been an object of discussion in college hoops for nearly a month, with some coaches acknowledging that they’ve thought about it. And the conversation escalated Tuesday, when columnist John Canzano of The Oregonian in Portland, an excellent reporter well-connected in basketball out West, tweeted that both Gonzaga and BYU “are weighing whether or not they need to choose out of the West Coast Conference basketball match.”

This is an issue for faculty basketball that has a really actual trigger and no straightforward resolution, however, relying on how it’s dealt with, could have penalties that linger for years.

In the yr 2021, each succesful faculty basketball group faces seven obstacles on the street to an NCAA championship: the usual six opponents that have to be defeated in a 68-team bracket, and the COVID-19 pandemic. The first of these is what each coach expects, understands and, certainly, embraces. The second is tough to anticipate or management.

For teams whose qualification to the NCAA Tournament is apparent, notably those that are conscious that they’ve a rare likelihood to excel on this yr’s occasion and had been positioned to do effectively a yr in the past earlier than that one was canceled, there may be an comprehensible concern relating to what stands between immediately and March 19, when the primary spherical begins.

“I’m going to look at it through a coach’s eyes for a minute, and I would say this: You, your staff and your players have made tremendous sacrifices since August, or even as far back as when we all got shut down,” ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes informed Sporting News. “You have fought many battles, some we don’t even realize, to get to the point where we’ve made it to the NCAA Tournament, which is the ultimate goal. Then, I think our natural human defense mechanism pops up and says: Don’t do anything that’s going to screw this up.

“I believe that may be a very actual pull on coaches now. I do know it’s. If you are on one of these prime 3/4 strains proper now, crucial factor is we have to get to Indianapolis, and we’re wholesome and we’re able to roll.”

Gonzaga has been to every NCAA Tournament since 1999 and has gone as far as the championship game. It has fielded some tremendous teams. Its 2017 squad made it all the way to the final regular-season game before losing. The 2019 squad featured two top-25 NBA Draft picks. The past four breached the 30-victory mark and advanced at least two NCAA rounds; no other team currently has a Sweet 16 streak as long.

But this is Gonzaga’s best chance ever to win the NCAA title. The Bulldogs are 20-0 and have beaten three of the teams the selection committee designated last weekend as ranking among the top 16 in their bracket preview. Only one team, West Virginia, lost by single digits. The average margin for the Zags’ victims: 20 points.

So it can be understood if everything between now and the NCAAs seems more trouble than it is worth.

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However, should any expected tournament entrant choose not to compete in a conference championship that conveys an automatic NCAA bid, it would have a material impact on the composition of the field. That AQ spot could go to a team that otherwise would not make it. As each spot in the field is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to conferences and their members, there would develop a financial incentive for elite teams to avoid conference tournaments altogether.

One could assert that this is a pandemic-only issue, but the hunger for funds in college athletics is enduring. No one is ascribing that motivation to a current team, but it is prudent to be concerned about the potential for future abuse.

Big Ten Network and Fox Sports analyst Stephen Bardo compares this situation to the NBA All-Star Game, which is being staged this season because it is an important component of the league’s television contract. This is true, as well, for conference tournaments. But in a typical year, these tournaments are also a joyous occasion for their leagues. The ACC understandably is proud of its long tradition. The Big East has made its annual trek to Madison Square Garden one of its marquee features. The Big Ten rapidly grew its championship into a jewel.

“It’s a captivating scenario. On the one hand, I perceive applications eager to choose out,” Bardo said. “On the opposite, the NCAA, the conferences are doing as a lot as they risk can to create security. I’ve been very impressed. We’re coming to the tail finish of an everyday season that has been superb in the best way that it has unfolded, the flexibleness wherein faculty basketball has been capable of function. The identical mindset ought to be utilized to conference tournaments.”

In many cases, it is. The Atlantic 10 will stage its tournament at two venues in Richmond, leading to less intersection among the competing teams. The Big Ten moved its tournament to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, a vast venue that can hold multiple courts. Competing in Indy also means those Big Ten teams chosen for the NCAAs only will have to travel from campus once; they’ll go to Indy and stay there until they either are eliminated from the NCAA Tournament or leave with the championship trophy.

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Based on comments Thursday from Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth to The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, this appears to be the Zags’ ultimate goal: a tournament staged in a less-congested environment than Las Vegas. That likely is why BYU became part of the conversation, because the Cougars aren’t such a dead-solid lock to be included in the NCAAs but are the second-most prominent WCC program.

“It’s a every day dialog,” Roth told beat writer Jim Meehan. “If the match had been to be performed proper now, our teams can be there representing our college and the WCC and doing all the things in our energy to win it. That’s about as a lot of a assure as I can provide at this level.

“Our players want to play. We want to play games, just like every year, leading into the NCAA Tournament. However, my concern continues to be going to a location where there may be more people around — in hotels and elsewhere — around the players, and the risk that poses.”

Dykes informed SN that it is very important take into account the voices of the gamers on this topic, that they need to be offered all of the variables and points and requested for enter.

“Guys, here are the reasons why we should go, here’s why maybe we shouldn’t, and let’s talk through this,” he mentioned.

The authority of the NCAA males’s basketball committee to have an effect on the potential for group opt-outs is proscribed for now. The members mentioned this subject at size final week, however there would should be a coverage change for them to declare that every one certified teams should take part in championship tournaments — if their leagues stage one — to be eligible for the NCAA Tournament. Some leagues have their very own such insurance policies.

It needed to suffice that NCAA vice chairman Dan Gavitt, when requested about opt-outs, mentioned, “The committee encourages that if a tournament is being played, all of those teams that have qualified for that tournament should participate to honor the game.” He went on to say the efforts of gamers and coaches to finish this difficult season in addition to the worth of extra video games to tell the choice course of. But the phrase “honor the game” was effectively chosen, and most impactful.

“This is what we live for. The conference tournaments have been the best addition to college basketball in the past 30 years,” mentioned Bardo, who reached the Final Four as level guard with the “Flyin’ Illini” in 1989, earlier than the Big Ten launched its postseason match. “It’s riveting competition, riveting television. It’s so special. College bowl season doesn’t come close to the excitement of the conference tournaments.  

“It’s a troublesome scenario, as a result of COVID has modified all the things.”

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