Monday, April 11, 2011

MVC needs to change format of women’s tournament

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, 3/16/2006

Open Letter to Doug Elgin, Commissioner Missouri Valley Conference:

Congratulations on having four teams selected to the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship. Several years ago you set out to make the conference more competitive by encouraging Valley teams to play harder non-conference schedules and that strategy has paid off with four teams selected for this year’s “Big Dance.” A fifth team, Missouri State, many argue should have been invited as well. Never mind the naysayers like CBS curmudgeon Billy Packer who was downright insulting of the Valley. His bosses are the ones who decided to telecast the Valley Championship game, suggesting that Billy’s time maybe has passed.

Now that you have accomplished putting the Missouri Valley back on the men’s basketball map, it is time to turn your attention to the women’s basketball situation. Last year, arguably the best team in the Valley was overlooked for the NCAA because they lost in the conference tournament, eventually won by 8th seed Illinois State, who entered the NCAA tournament a dismal, let’s see if I recall, 15th seed. Doesn’t say much for the conference when that is the only representative.

Missouri State went on to win the WNIT. That win, the second in a row by a Valley team, is an excellent testament to their quality and a good argument that Missouri State should have been given an at-large bid last year. But, an upstart Illinois State team, playing on its home court, won four straight to win the tournament. That was a great story for Illinois State but a bad one for the conference as a whole.

The same thing happened again this year. Indiana State, by far the class of the league, had to face Missouri State on their home court, with their incredible fans. Missouri State has lost at home only 12 times in nearly 400 games. What a surprise, Missouri State won. Hurray for them. Boo for the league because the lone Valley representative is awarded a lowly 13th seed, and Indiana State is overlooked.

When a conference tournament is rigged so heavily in favor of the “host” team, no one outside the conference is going to much respect the quality of the Valley teams. I didn’t do the research, but I bet you know: How many tournament hosts have won the title? Eight times, more than twice as often as any other team, Missouri State has been the host (Indiana State has never hosted the tournament) and has won seven titles. A cynic might quip, “The key to winning the Valley is to host the tournament.”

Yeah, I’m sour grapes because my Lady Sycamores aren’t the tournament champions. A number 1 seed, which they earned, is supposed to be an advantage. But I’d say a number 1 seed doesn’t outweigh the advantage of sleeping in one’s own bed, having friendly fans, hometown press, and being familiar with the lay of the land.

Indeed, Missouri State looked fresher in their fourth game than Indiana State did in its third. Being assured that your fans sit behind the visitors’ bench is a hell of an advantage and it had nothing to do with the outcomes of the games during the regular season … thus undoing what seeding is supposed to mean. The tournaments are supposed to wear you out; but they are also supposed to be played on neutral sites.

Missouri State played two other tournament teams, both at home, losing to Oklahoma and beating Tulsa. Indiana State played four NCAA tournament teams, beating two of them (one of them Missouri State at home), the other over Pepperdine played on a neutral court. Which is more impressive? Winning on one’s own court or on a neutral court?

It is time for you to spend some energy improving the Valley’s reputation in Women’s NCAA Division I Basketball. The SEC sent six teams to the women’s NCAA tournament. They moved their conference tournament to a neutral site 20 years ago. Your first step in raising the stature of Women’s Valley Basketball is by unrigging the tournament in favor of the host team; find a neutral site to play the semis and final game.

Otherwise, forget getting two bids when our tournament lacks legitimacy as it does now.

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