Ever since the Loyola men’s basketball team went to the Final Four in 2018, I’ve pondered the question of if they would have even made the tournament had they hadn’t won Arch Madness.
The short answer is no, they probably wouldn’t have.
The issue with the NCAA Tournament is that so many mid-major conferences only get one bid — from their conference tournament. Power conferences like the Big 10 or SEC get upwards of three bids, even if those teams didn’t necessarily deserve it.
I’m not here to argue mid-major versus power conferences. That’s a topic for another day. I’m here to argue that the Missouri Valley Conference’s (MVC) only bid for the NCAA Tournament should come from the regular season, not the conference tournament.
It’s harder to have sustained success over a season rather than in the three-four games a team plays in a tournament. I want to be clear that I’m not saying it’s easy to win Arch Madness. I’ve seen teams do it, and it’s not. However, I think it’s harder to be atop the standing after 18 games than it is to be the last one standing after a hectic weekend.
Here’s the thing: in the tournament you play three-to-four teams in three-to-four days. In the season you play every single team — twice — and it’s over a much longer period of time. It’s harder to continue to perform well over that amount of time, compared to getting hot over a weekend.
After getting into a heated discussion with my friend Josh, a student at Bradley University, I decided to take to Twitter to poll my followers.
I asked the question: Which should have more weight in postseason play? They had the option of a conference season and conference tournament. It was a 70-30 percent split in favor of conference season. I also allowed them to provide reasoning.
“I put more value in the conference season,” Tom Schnable, my uncle, said. “I think you get a better sense as to how good a team is viewing its body of work over a two-month, home-and-away schedule, as opposed to a team getting hot for one weekend.”
My sentiments exactly.
On the other side Joe Dlugosz — a Loyola superfan — thinks the tournament brings balance to the conference.
“The tourney has always been the equalizer,” Dlugosz said. “Won the conference? Wanna dance and not sweat on Sunday? Win the tourney, too!”
I think Dlugosz makes a good point, but the issue is in mid-majors there’s almost never a chance for an at-large. Your season might as well be over if you don’t win the conference tournament even though you’ve worked incredibly hard to win the regular season.
A team makes one mistake in the conference tournament and their season is over. All that hard work and virtually nothing but a “Regular Season Champion” and a trip to the National Invitation Tournament. They could do everything right but not make it to March Madness because the best player gets the flu.
There’s a reward for winning a weekend long tournament, but not a substantial award for the whole season and it truly makes no sense to me.
I appreciate the Ivy League Conference’s attempt to make it a little more fair. Starting in 2017, only the top four teams in the league had a chance of getting the automatic bid. Only those four teams would compete in a postseason tournament.
It’s rewarding the success of the regular conference and giving those teams a better chance to make it to March Madness. I vote that every conference does it this way. It’s more logical.
The only thing MVC schools are playing for in the regular season is a seed and a potential bye for the first round of the tournament. Sure their chances are better, but a No. 7 seed could still end up playing on Championship Sunday.