To get the biases of this commentary out of the way up front, I am a Penn grad reared on a league that doesn't hold a conference tournament, preferring the quaint idea of actually sending its best team each year to the NCAA tournament. In addition, my father is employed at Stony Brook. There, everything's on the table. Now we can begin.
What happened today to Middle Tennessee State and Stony Brook is ridiculous. I can't make it any clearer than that.
The Blue Raiders won the Sun Belt's full double round-robin 20-game regular-season schedule by five games. Five! In an 11-team league! They went 19-1, with the only loss coming in overtime on the road. Their reward for that dominance? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. They had to play a quarterfinal game against an 8-seed. They didn't get homecourt advantage in any round, as the event is held in Hot Springs, Ark. They had utterly destroyed a league over a couple of months, and the powers that be thought it would be a great idea to see if they could win three more games. And they couldn't.
I'm not sure that lunacy is better or worse than the America East's setup, where the quarterfinals and semifinals are held at one location before the higher seed hosts the title game. For the second time in four seasons, Stony Brook didn't even get a chance to utilize the homecourt advantage it earned through its regular-season play, losing before the final. This time around, it was even worse, as the Seawolves actually had a road game against 4-seed Albany, the site host.
My question to these and other one-bid leagues around the land: WHAT ARE YOU DOING??
The conference tournament argument is incredibly circular in logic to begin with. While it's much fairer to have leagues set up tournaments like the West Coast Conference, which gives byes into the semifinals for its top two seeds, if you need to rig a tournament to that degree to try to have the best team(s) win it more often, why bother? Just send your best team. I understand in a world of unbalanced league schedules that this is often in dispute, but not always. And if it is, fine, let's have a tournament system just for those teams arguably in the mix. This isn't CYO. Not everyone deserves a second chance. But if you have to invite everyone, the WCC setup, which actually rewards regular-season performance, is much preferred to many other constructs.
The best arguments for small-conference tournaments: 1) You get a game on national TV, 2) It's exciting to have a year-end event where everyone has a chance, and 3) You could steal an extra bid. In my opinion, the first two of those reasons are really stupid. You know how you get the most attention? Win games in the NCAAs. Cornell got plenty of love in 2010 when it blasted Temple and Wisconsin and played Kentucky mostly tough in the Sweet 16. As for the third one, how often does that even happen in the bottom 15 conferences? It's a pipe dream. You're not getting an at-large.