I never used to be a big fan of conference tournaments in college basketball. It always seemed silly to me that most teams could play an entire regular season but have their chances at a berth into the NCAA tournament determined by how they fare during one week in March.
But I've come around to thinking the conference tournaments are a great thing, because they build interest in the sport and give teams one last shot at proving they are one of the best teams in the country.
In other words, the conference tournaments are a major reason why the notion of expanding the NCAA Tournament is just plain silly.
Those pushing for an NCAA tournament expansion argue that other sports allow a greater percentage of their teams into postseason play. College basketball allows about 19 percent of its teams into the Big Dance, compared to 37.5 percent for the NFL, 27 percent for Major League Baseball.
But when you factor in the conference tournaments, the percentage of teams that have a chance to play for a National Championship is much more. In fact, it's more than 90 percent.
Every conference, save for the Ivy League and fledgling Great West, provides an automatic berth to the conference tournament winner. Therefore, college basketball is by far the most inclusive when it comes to giving teams a chance to play for a national title.
At the end of college basketball's regular season, the only teams that had no hope of playing their way to the National Championship were:
-The seven Ivy League teams other than season champ Cornell
-The seven independent teams
-The seven teams from the Great West conference, which does not offer an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament
-The bottom two teams from the Atlantic 10 (Fordham and LaSalle)
-The bottom four teams from the Northeast Conference. (Bryant, Wagner, Sacred Heart and St. Francis-NY)
In other words, you still have more 300 teams still capable of playing their way to a National Championship, even after the regular season is over. Absolutely none of the few excluded teams have a scintilla of a valid argument that they should be included in the tournament, and even if they did, they could always be considered for one of the tournament selection committee's at-large bids.
As it stands now, conference tournaments offer a way for the NCAA selection committee to separate the wheat from the chaff in college hoops. But if the NCAA tournament were expanded to 96 teams, the conference tournaments would take on less importance.