In a normal year, UConn coach Geno Auriemma doesn’t mind playing in the conference tournament. It’s a good experience for players, and it can help teams with their NCAA Tournament seeding.
But this year isn’t a normal year, and with the COVID-19 pandemic still threatening to shut down teams heading into March, Auriemma doesn’t feel that holding the conference tournament is necessary. In fact, the risks may outweigh the awards.
“Me personally, if we didn’t have a [conference] tournament, it wouldn’t bother me one iota. It wouldn’t bother me one bit,” Auriemma told media Tuesday. “Some coaches might say, ‘Yeah well, that’s because you think you’re in the NCAA Tournament, but we’re not going to have a chance to play our way in. What can I say to that, I don’t know. You had all year long to play your way in.”
As the calendar turns to February and programs continue to experience COVID-19 pauses, talk has intensified about the logistical challenges and risks of holding conference tournaments. What happens if tournament games get postponed or pushed back due to COVID-19 issues? What happens if individuals contract the virus during the conference tournament and jeopardize their team’s ability to participate in the NCAA Tournament?
The winner of each conference tournament is typically an automatic qualifier to the NCAA Tournament, but the NCAA has said conferences can submit their automatic qualifier requirements by the end of February. In theory, a conference could opt to have their regular-season champion be their automatic qualifier.
Big basketball conferences may also be less incentivized to make the tournaments happen this season if they can’t bring in fans.
“For the most part, in 90 percent of the leagues in America, it’s pointless to have a [conference] tournament,” Auriemma said. “Only one team go into the [NCAA] Tournament no matter what. You’re not making any money. Generally, there’s no fans at your tournament. So what’s the point?
“It’s supposed to be a player’s experience. Well, there is no player’s experience this year. The only experience is exactly the same experience that they’ve had every day for the last six months, cooped up in a hotel room, can’t go out, no interaction with anybody. Nothing. With the understanding that if something happens — which is no guarantee that it won’t — a team that has already assured themselves of a spot in the NCAA Tournament now gets shut down.”
Auriemma is not alone. More than a quarter of 41 head coaches surveyed by CBS Sports said their conference should not hold a tournament.
The final day of Big East women’s basketball regulr-season games is currently March 1, and though no official dates have been announced, the women’s tournament is expected to go from March 5-8 at Mohegan Sun Arena. The NCAA Selection Show is March 15.
The Big East men’s teams are scheduled to convene for the conference tournament from March 10-13 at Madison Square Garden, with the Selection Show March 14 and the NCAA Tournament to begin March 18.
Alexa Philippou can be reached at email@example.com