Recipe for Conference Tournament Site Selection
This time of year is exciting for college sports fans across the country as March Madness is in full swing. One of the perks is it puts men’s college basketball into some of the most famous venues our country has to offer like Madison Square Garden and the Georgia Dome. Each conference has different criteria for choosing the sites of the tournaments, and each provides different results for spectators and television viewers alike.
Regular Season Champion On-Campus Site
The classic method for choosing a tournament site is allowing the conference champion to host its basketball championships. This method is used most often by low-major conferences that either lacks the fan base or the funds to host at a neutral site. This method has both upsides and downsides. The main strength is its rewarding of home-court advantage to the regular season champion, giving the best team in the conference the best chance of receiving the highly coveted automatic bid. This also guarantees a large fan base if the host advances to the championship. This also leads to the most glaring negative, which is a significantly reduced fan base if the host is upset on its way to the championship.
Roaming Host City
Conferences with spread out region like the ACC and Big Ten rotate their host cities among large markets in that territory. The ACC is the strongest user of this method, having played its tournament in Washington, DC; Greensboro, NC; Tampa, FL; Charlotte, NC; and Atlanta, GA over the past five years. The ACC is able to draw large crowds in each venue and it gives a new set of fans easy access to the tournament. It also provides the loyal fans of ACC teams a new site to travel to each year, many of which are within a few hours drive. The ACC may have bitten off more than it can chew this year, as the Georgia Dome was forced to cover the majority of its upper deck with tarps due to less than capacity turnouts (you can find more specifics about the ACC Tournament in Jeremy Hammond’s posts from February 26 and March 6). The Big Ten, on the other hand, has rotated its sites between Indianapolis and Chicago over the past ten years. This allows the conference to play its tournament in the U.S.’s third biggest market (Chicago) and one of basketball’s most historic cities (Indianapolis) on a regular basis while also preventing any one team from having a home-court advantage on an annual basis.
Destination Host City
The Atlantic 10 and Mountain West Conferences have recently chosen to place their tournaments in destination cities within their conference region in Atlantic City and Las Vegas, respectively. This format gives fans an exciting location to count on each year that they can plan around in advance. Atlantic City and Las Vegas are fun cities with many attractions for fans to enjoy when their team isn’t playing or when they get eliminated. The West Coast Conference has followed suit, also placing their tournament in Las Vegas, which removes the home court advantage enjoyed by host cities in the past. The Mountain West are also the only major conference that place their women’s and men’s tournaments in the same city at the same time, giving die-hard fans a one-stop destination for all of their basketball needs.
Standard City and Venue
The Pac-10, Big East, and Missouri Valley Conferences follow the method of having one host city that is visited on a regular basis. These may not be the destination cities described in the previous section, but they also provide regularity for fans in some of the country’s largest markets. The Big East Tournament, played in the world’s most famous arena at Madison Square Garden, is ESPN and the country’s darling for conference tournaments. It provides a central location for fans from all 16 of its schools to travel to for five days of magic in America’s largest city. The Pac-10 followed a similar model in choosing the Staples Center in Los Angeles as its host when it brought back its conference tournament in 2002. The Pac-10 has six major metropolitan areas where it can host the tournament, but it has followed the Big East model by staying true to Los Angeles. The Missouri Valley Conference hosts its tournament each year in St. Louis, which has grown in popularity as the conference’s basketball has gained more national attention in the last decade.
What is Best?
No model can be labeled as the strongest for everyone. It boils down to what works best for the conference. The America East Conference will never be able to sell out Madison Square Garden the way the Big East does, so its regular season champion host is the best model for the conference. The trend seems to be moving toward neutral sites that provide the fairest medium for determining which team will represent the conference as champion in the NCAA tournament. The key is determining which model fits the conference’s teams and fans in the most enjoyable set-up possible.