Orange Watch: ACC basketball tournament format makes no sense

Item: The ACC recently announced the format of its basketball tournament with the addition of Syracuse and Pittsburgh to 14 teams, and, to these eyes, it stinks.

We’ve never liked conference basketball tournaments. We know they’re a necessary evil as a fundraising mechanism for conference coffers and to supply TV programming.

But to us, they’ve always diluted the regular season, especially the ‘Big Gulp’-sized Big East in the last five years with an 18-game conference schedule (the Big East also played an 18 game league schedule between 1992-99).

Besides, does this make sense? Play a challenging 18 game conference schedule. Wait a few days. Bring everyone to the same location for what’s essentially a “second chance drawing,” with some teams scheduled to play more games than others. Then see what shakes out differently over five days than after a 10 week conference season?

» More on conference realignment: Big East has become dysfunctional

Why reward a team that suddenly gets hot after mediocrity? This is true especially in cases where an unlikely team gets the conference’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament when it had no business qualifying based on its regular season play.

It simply doesn’t seem logical, not when programs are judged by their NCAA performances, NOT conference tournaments. We always proposed that the regular season winner of a conference receive the automatic NCAA bid (we’ve heard plenty of “will never happen” to that scenario). If that same team also happens to win the post-season tournament, so be it.

In the case of the ACC starting in March 2014 (after an 18-game regular season), the No. 11-14 seeds will play games on Wednesday evening of tournament week, and you know that the Greensboro Coliseum will likely be less than half full.

It brings back memories of the old “8 versus 9 game” bracketed between 1983-91 the first night of the Big East Tournament, when barely a couple of thousand folks were in The Garden.

The next day in Greensboro, Wednesday’s winners join seeds 5-10 for four games, while on Friday the top four seeds, like in the Big East with a pass right into the quarterfinal round, finally get into action during another four game day.  The semi-final doubleheader is Saturday afternoon, the championship on Selection Sunday afternoon.

» More Orange Watch with Brad Bierman: An Eastern path to the Final Four for Syracuse?

The end result: Four teams have to win five games, four teams have to win three games, and six teams have to win four games…for the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

It’s too gimmicky, the competition shouldn’t be like a reality TV show disguising artistry (or in this case athleticism) as a game show.

And, by ending on Sunday just a couple of hours before the bracket is revealed (assuming that schedule doesn’t change moving forward), depending on the distance from Greensboro involving the teams in the championship game, they might not even be back on campus to watch the large screen TV together to see where they’re NCAA-bound. It could turn into a Tuesday plane trip out west.

Don’t worry ‘Cuse fans, at least you won’t have to be making the trek to Greensboro too much longer.  The site is set through the 2015 ACC Tourney, but in ’16 and moving forward there’s no doubt commissioner John Swofford (and TV partner ESPN) wants Atlanta at a minimum, and New York City, more specifically Brooklyn, at a maximum, to showcase the event.

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Brad Bierman

About Brad Bierman

Now in his fifth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.
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