Next week, the first men’s conference tournaments will tip off after months of controversy surrounding whether they’re worth the potential COVID risk.
Some teams appear to be wavering, but conferences are pushing hard to finally play events with large payouts.
Teams Weigh Risks
In January, about a quarter of Division I men’s coaches opposed playing conference tournaments, a CBS Sports survey found.
But on the verge of the Big Dance, bubble teams must consider the extra opportunity to boost their resumes and earn an invite. Tournament locks have to weigh potential COVID exposure and disqualification, as every team needs to test negative seven times before traveling to Indianapolis.
Reports have suggested that No. 1 Gonzaga, for example, is unsure whether to play in the West Coast Conference tournament. “I’m more than happy to play in the league tournament and give everybody a shot,” coach Mark Few told reporters last week. “Some of us are facing some really, really stringent requirements.”
“It’s not business as usual, and you can’t just roll on here and act like it is.”
Conferences have other motivations for staging their championships.
They still want to provide competitive opportunities for their athletes, and they can prove their athletic commitment to potential recruits, Katie Davis, a CPA who works for D-I conferences, told FOS.
Television inventory can earn conferences millions. In some cases, if ratings are high, conferences can earn extra, Davis said. Sending as many teams as possible to the NCAA tournament can earn conferences more “units” of NCAA revenue.
Though events with limited fans generate lower ticket revenue, they also require far fewer arena personnel to handle fans, which lowers costs, Davis said.
To prevent or accommodate outbreaks, conferences have relocated or reimagined their events.
The Atlantic 10, for example, pushed games up one week to start on March 3, but left its championship game for March 14, and the Big Ten has moved its tournament to Indianapolis so teams won’t have to travel to March Madness.