The case for keeping conference tournaments

Christian Zylstra-Staff Writer

Bright lights. Packed arenas. Squeaking shoes. Screaming fans.

It must be March.

With March comes one of the greatest stretches of basketball known to humanity. It’s a piece of the madness and a piece of the process. It’s how college basketball crowns its champions.

It’s tournament time.

March is a basketball fan’s dream month, with nearly two full weeks dedicated to conference tournaments and several following weekends devoted strictly to NCAA Tournament action.

But as No. 1 seeds and regular season champions continue to fall in conference tournament play, people are questioning the worth and value of conference tournaments now more than ever.

Those who want to end conference tournaments argue that it’s most important to reward the best team from the regular season. That claim makes sense, but I’d argue it’s more important to place the hottest team in the NCAA Tournament. You’re more likely to get a great performance out of a team that just rolled through its conference tournament than you are a regular season champion who was knocked out in the quarterfinals.

But there are other reasons why conference tournaments matter and shouldn’t be eliminated. Conference tournaments leave dramatic impact on the local economies in which they take place; in fact, these tournaments bring in millions of dollars to the cities and towns that play host to their competitions.

Perhaps the greatest reason for keeping conference tournaments is that these tournaments embody everything college basketball and March Madness stand for.

I spent spring break covering the Summit League Tournament in Sioux Falls, S.D., and I saw firsthand what makes conference tournaments special.

The men’s tournament action saw the University of South Dakota and South Dakota State University square off in a semifinal matchup. Bragging rights, a trip to the league championship and a potential trip to the NCAA Tournament were all on the line.

I’ve been to a number of college basketball games during my life, and I’ve never encountered an atmosphere like the one USD and SDSU fans created at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center.

Sitting court side on press row, the roars of the crowd were deafening. Each fan base cheered and booed with each basket and whistle, making it nearly impossible to communicate with the colleagues to my left and right.

The game went down to the wire with USD and SDSU trading clutch baskets. In the end, Michael Orris hit the game-winning jumper with 2.2 seconds left to push SDSU on to the Summit League Championship.

This showdown between two South Dakota universities proved to be just a microcosm of the excitement and thrills that March brings. Each Summit League Tournament matchup proved to bring its own unique level of excitement and attraction from the first game of the women’s tournament to the men’s championship.

And isn’t that what March is all about? Isn’t it about the wild, unpredictable finishes and the must-see classics?

I witnessed it firsthand at the Summit League Tournament– conference tournaments personify everything March Madness is about.

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