The Big South Conference is returning to a men’s basketball tournament format that greater rewards regular season order of finish.
The tournament will hold two play-in games, followed by quarterfinals and semifinals at the home court of the No. 1 seed, with the final hosted by the highest remaining seed.
The league decided to shift its men’s tournament format in the fall of 2015, but hadn’t released the information yet. The format will be in place for the foreseeable future, according to Big South commissioner Kyle Kallander.
“What this will enable us to do is reward the regular season performance,” he told The Herald on Wednesday, “and ensure that you can get good attendance and crowds at all your games because you’re playing on campus and your better seeds are hosting.”
With Coastal Carolina departing the league this summer for the Sun Belt Conference, the Big South will return to 10 teams in 2016-17. The four lowest finishing teams will open the 2017 tournament on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, with the No. 7 and 8 seeds hosting the No. 9 and 10 teams.
The winners of those two games will advance to make an even eight-team bracket. The next two rounds, the quarterfinals and semifinals, will be played on the home deck of the regular season champion on Thursday and Friday, March 2-3.
The finals will take place on Sunday at the home court of the highest remaining seed.
“ESPN loves to ensure that they’re gonna have a great crowd for their game, which we will,” said Kallander, referencing the annually-televised championship game. “And it enhances the opportunity and chances that we’ll have one of our best teams representing the Big South Conference in the NCAA championship. That’s really important for us from a perception standpoint and a success standpoint.”
The Big South first used some variation of the higher seed hosts-format in 2004; the league’s No. 1 seed reached – and hosted – the championship game each year from 2004 to 2012. Winthrop did that three straight times, 2005 through 2007.
The Big South tournament was played the last four seasons at a predetermined host, including three times in Conway at Coastal Carolina. When Coastal announced it was leaving the league, the tournament was moved to Campbell. The format of playing at a Big South member school that hadn’t earned hosting rights through merit, but rather through a bidding process, was unpopular among the league’s coaches.
“The biggest thing it does is it makes the regular season championship much more significant,” said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey. “Playing on your home floor is an obvious advantage. The team that earns the No. 1 seed should not face the possibility of playing a lower seed on their home floor. Not with the stakes being what they are that weekend in March.”
Winthrop lost in the league tournament finals the last three years, losing twice to Coastal Carolina as a lower seed in Conway. But under the current format, the Eagles would have hosted this year’s final against Asheville in Rock Hill.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations with our coaches about this,” said Kallander. “If you found a neutral site that could really support it and really get behind the event, and turn out good numbers, that would be the ideal in all worlds. But we just felt like there wasn’t an opportunity for us at this point that really served that option.”
Four other Division I conferences use the higher seed hosts format – the Northeast, America East, Patriot and Atlantic Sun conferences. But the higher remaining seed hosts in every game – no exceptions or alterations – throughout the tournament.
The other 26 conferences use a neutral site, sometimes in the same city as a member school but never on an actual campus. Kallander views the Big South’s 2016-17 format as a compromise between the benefits of having each competing school at one neutral site, all gathered together, and the fairness of higher seeds earning the right to host tournament games.
“A true ‘neutral’ destination site was the best scenario in my opinion,” said Kelsey. “The coaches and the conference were united on this and the league tried very hard to make that a reality. I feel this is the best alternative, though.”
Women’s format to remain the same
Kallander said the women’s tournament format will remain the same, with the tournament host determined each year by bids. The league currently has several bids for the 2016-17 edition that it will consider during its spring meeting in late May. The Big South will choose one that will host the tournament the next three years.
UNC Asheville hosted – and won – this year’s Big South women’s tournament.
NCAA men’s basketball conference tournament formats in 2015-16
Hosted at a neutral site (26)
Big 12 (Sprint Center, Kansas City), ACC (Verizon Center, Washington, D.C.), Big East (Madison Square Garden, New York City), Pac 12 (MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas), Big Ten (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis), SEC (Bridgestone Arena, Nashville), American Athletic (Amway Center, Orlando), Atlantic 10 (Barclays Center, Brooklyn), Colonial Athletic Association (Royal Fams Arena, Baltimore), Mountain West (Thomas and Mack Center, Las Vegas), West Coast (Orleans Arena, Las Vegas), Missouri Valley (Scottrade Center, St. Louis), Mid American (Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland), Big West (Honda Center, Anaheim), Summit (Premier Center, Sioux Falls, S.D.), Sun Belt (Lakefront Arena, New Orleans), Conference USA (Legacy Arena, Birmingham, Ala.), Horizon (Joe Louis Arena, Detroit), Southern (U.S. Cellular Center, Asheville, N.C.), Metro Atlantic (Times Union Center, Albany, N.Y.), Western Athletic (Orleans Arena, Las Vegas), Big Sky (Reno Events Center, Reno, Nev.), Southland (Merrell Center, Katy, Texas), Southwestern Athletic (Toyota Center, Houston), Mid-Eastern Athletic (Norfolk Scope, Norfolk, Va.).
Hosted by predetermined member school (1)
Big South (Gore Center, Campbell University, Buies Creek, N.C.)
Hosted by higher seeded team (4)
Northeast, America East, Patriot and Atlantic Sun
Doesn’t have a conference tournament (1)
*The Ivy League will host a conference tournament for the first time in 2017.