The Big Sky Conference may be more competitive and stable than the depleted WAC Idaho left last season, but the new conference has a host of basketball tournament issues that need to be resolved.
Unfair scheduling and a wacky tiebreak system are some of the major problems in the Big Sky, but another obvious issue is the rotating host site for postseason tournaments.
In the WAC, teams and fans knew the postseason tournament would be held in Las Vegas every year. They also knew the Vandals would be competing in the tournament each year.
This isn’t true in the Big Sky, where the host site for the tournament is determined by which team wins the regular season conference title. This year for the men’s basketball tournament, there were three possible locations heading into the final weekend of the season — Missoula, Montana, Cheney, Washington, and Sacramento, California. Montana squeaked out the first-place finish giving fans just four days to buy plane tickets or make plans to head out to Missoula.
Every year, nobody knows exactly where the tournament will be, which makes it hard for fans to plan and actually get to the tournament to watch their teams play. Back in the WAC, yearly spring break trips and vocations to Las Vegas were the norm for many Vandal fans.
Both the men’s and women’s tournaments are in Missoula this year, but this wasn’t guaranteed going into last weekend. If Sacramento State had won just one game last week, Big Sky fans would have had to pick whether they wanted to watch the women’s tournament in Missoula or the men’s tournament in Sacramento rather than getting to see both tournaments at the same site.
Not only is the rotating tournament site a hassle, but not every team even gets into the tournaments. Both the Idaho men’s and women’s teams went into last weekend not knowing whether they would even make it to postseason play. The men’s team made it, but the women’s team wasn’t so lucky. Not knowing if your team will even qualify for the tournament makes planning even more difficult.
All this aside, giving the hosting rights to the best team in the conference seems like a good reward for the winning team, right? That is until you consider that some venues, like Sacramento State’s Hornets Nest, aren’t even fit to host a tournament. Built in 1955, the Hornets Nest holds a whopping 1,012 people — not exactly ideal for hosting an 8-team tournament.
Also, the No. 1 seeds in conference tournaments are already rewarded by having first-round byes or by playing the worst teams in the conference in the first round. Why does the Big Sky need to reward these teams even more by giving them a home-court advantage?
A set neutral site would solve many problems with the Big Sky’s rotating conference tournaments. Some place like Boise or Reno with entertainment, adequate facilities and is the center of conference travel for most teams would be ideal for the annual tournaments.
The Big Sky has plenty of issues, but the rotating conference tournament is one that needs to be fixed sooner rather than later.
Stephan Wiebe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org