Pay special attention to next year’s Big East Tournament. Be sure to soak everything up. Absorb each dribble, every shrill buzzer sound. Because the Big East Tournament as you have come to know it is over for the foreseeable future.
The Big East announced on Wednesday changes to the tournament format for its new-look conference beginning with the 2013-2014 season, when 18 teams will comprise the fabled league. In a decision endorsed unanimously by the coaches, the league will institute an expanded 18-team men’s basketball tournament that features a pair of play-in games involving the four lowest-seeded teams.
The new tournament format will follow the same outline of the NCAA Tournament bracket. On the Tuesday of conference tourney week, the top four seeds square off with the bottom four (1 vs. 16, 2 vs. 15 and so on). On Wednesday, the middle eight seeds hook up in a four-game pod, effectively giving the winners of Tuesday’s games a bye before Thursday’s quarterfinals.
So when No. 13-seed Houston knocks off No. 4-seed Villanova in the 2019 Big East Tournament, the Cougars receive a free day of rest and an opportunity to scout their quarterfinal opponent—a team (either a No. 5- or 12-seed) that will have won more conference games during the regular season than the one that “earned” the bye. What a foolproof system!
The two play-in games would take place on the Monday of tournament week at a location still to be determined. Under the league’s existing contract with Madison Square Garden, the current site for college basketball’s most celebrated conference tourney, the Big East may only access the facility beginning Tuesday. MSG may not be willing [or able] to extend its commitment to Monday. And who can blame it? Staffing an entire team of stadium employees—who may, in fact, outnumber the fans in attendance on Monday night—for that juicy SMU-DePaul, Central Florida-South Florida doubleheader would be quite…err…ambitious.
If 17- and 18-seeds are going to get a crack at the conference tournament (and they shouldn’t; just look at how ridiculous that reads if you need proof), let the schools travel to the home gyms of the 15- and 16-seeds, respectively. At least that adds some intrigue, no less some meaningful basketball—assuming the entire regular season slate wasn’t enough—for fans and students to “enjoy.” Believe it or not, these two play-in games may very well generate the best crowds of the year for the respective home teams, not counting, of course, any games played against top 25 opponents during the season.