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FACER 2 FACER: What to do about college basketball conference tournaments

Editor’s Note: “This Is The Place Sports” founders Dirk and Austin Facer‚ father and son, provide a weekly opinion-based conversation on a sports topic. This week the topic is: Should college basketball conduct conference tournaments this year?

DIRK: Because of the pandemic, this year’s college basketball conference tournaments should be canceled. Playing them ranks right up there with a possible NBA All-Star Game. They aren’t necessary. The risks outweigh the rewards. The health and safety of players, coaches and others associated with teams are most important. However, there’s the money issue. There’s a lot of it on the line because of television contracts. Cornhole competitions can’t fill the void. As such, there’s a cash grab in the mix — same as there was in professional and college football.

My contention, though, isn’t necessarily about that. There’s little to debate there. However, I really think there’s something to be said about sports taking a break. Waiting, perhaps, until fans can return to the stands and there are no pressing health issues. People are dying because of the virus and that doesn’t seem to matter in this regard. The networks and viewers, it seems, want sports to continue by whatever means. Netflix, after all, can’t deliver action like an NBA game in a bubble or an empty arena. Depleted rosters have taken a big toll on college basketball this season — watering down the season as well as plans for an Indianapolis-based Big Dance.

AUSTIN: I think we all know what’s really going to happen with regards to tournaments and games and potential exposure to the virus and whatnot. The conference commissioners and other powers-at-be are going to chase the almighty dollar, which probably means that conference tournaments will take place.

It’s the wrong move for the current global health crisis. I know we got swept up in the excitement of a new presidency, developments with a vaccine and a new year, but the pandemic is still very much a part of our everyday lives. Playing a conference tournament is a risk, and a big one at that.

The correct move would be to reward the regular season conference champions with automatic bids to the Big Dance and not bother with conference tournaments at all this year. Sucks, but sorry. Let’s make sure we at least have a Big Dance, with a healthy lot of teams in the Indianapolis Bubble.

DIRK: Because of the potential risks why would a team headed to the NCAA tournament play for a conference crown a few days earlier? Obviously it would be a shame for a squad to miss out on an opportunity to play for a national title because of coronavirus exposure from a not-so-necessary league gathering. Cancellations, thereof, would assure that Cinderella won’t be dancing. That in itself hurts. After all, it’s a big part of the madness of March. The pandemic, though, has altered the landscape. The NCAA tournament field is going to consist of teams with varying numbers of games played. Seeding will be more of a nightmare than usual. 

In the five conferences including Utah men’s teams, there’s quite a gap because of cancellations and postponements. The range of conference games played in the WAC (Dixie State and UVU) currently varies from two to eight. The Pac-12 (Utah) is spread from eight to 14 and the WCC (BYU) is five to 10. The Big Sky (Southern Utah, Weber State) and Mountain West (Utah State) have four-game differences as February moves toward the midway mark.

If things aren’t more closely balanced by NCAA tourney time, there could be plenty of fairness arguments. Will it all be worth it? Maybe so.

Then again, wouldn’t it be nice to do things the right way — even if it takes a little more time and everyone stays healthy?

AUSTIN: That’s a great point, old man. If I were a team in the top 25 or so as it is, why would bother showing up and risking infection and transmission at a conference tournament? I can get into the Big Dance as an at-large team, I don’t need the conference tournament anyways. Expect teams like Baylor, Gonzaga and others elite squads to make that argument. It’s a good one.

Let’s all just agree that the last two years have been brutal in the collegiate athletics landscape. In 2020, we didn’t even get to have an NCAA Tournament due to the outbreak of Covid-19. We’re going to have a chance at least something this year, let’s not throw it away because we want things to be perfectly normal again.

Things aren’t normal yet, we still have to adjust. For a couple of would-be Cinderellas, that means they won’t get on the dance card this year. Sorry, Cindy. We need to dance the best we can this year, maybe next year will be different.

This Is The Place Sports