The Western Athletic Conference post-season basketball tournament is being held in Laramie, Wyo., this week (beginning today), and I'll bet you're wondering the same thing lots of intelligent people are wondering.
Why?Was there something wrong with the regular season? Is there some reason that the same nine teams who faced each other for two months and 72 games have to play again?
Certainly. There are lots of reasons. Let's see if you can name a few.
THE WESTERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE IS HOLDING A POST-SEASON TOURNAMENT BECAUSE . . .
. . . a) the WAC really considers the regular season just an extended let's-get-acquainted party; b) even though the University of Utah's Runnin' Utes swept seven of their eight WAC foes and won the regular season championship by a mile is no reason to do anything rash, such as proclaim them post-season champs; c) it's a good idea for athletes to miss four days of school since they need another break from the classroom anyway;
d) everybody loves Laramie in March and looks forward to dining at truck stops; e) it seemed like a good idea at the time; f) what else would the Air Force Academy do in March? g) it's fun to watch Benny Dees have the temperamental equivalent of a meltdown; h) all of the above; i) all of the above, except d.
Some people aren't happy about the WAC's post-season tournament, even if it has been going on seven years and even if every conference except the Big Ten and the Pac-10 also has one.
Rick Majerus, the University of Utah coach, doesn't like it. Neither does Roger Reid, the BYU coach. Their teams finished first and second during the regular season. So much for the haves of the WAC. The have-nots are another story.
"I haven't seen where it's been a plus," says Reid. "It just puts more pressure on players and coaches. At the coaches' meetings the top four coaches speakagainst the tournament, but the bottom echelon teams speak for it."
"It's a case of people talking out both sides of their mouths," says Majerus, who's just warming up. "It doesn't serve any purpose. It takes kids out of class for four days. Then you have the NCAA tournament the next week. We'll go into final exams having been in school two days in two weeks. All those A.D.s and presidents . . . say one thing and vote another. It's a giant hypocrisy. And my feelings have nothing to do with basketball. I talked like this at Ball State, and we didn't have a conference tournament there."
For its part, the WAC has basically four defenses for holding a tournament.
1) The tournament makes money. Bzzzzz. Wrong. Thanks for playing anyway. The average payout per team, according to the league office, is between $35,000 and $40,000. Most of WAC teams - certainly BYU, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, UTEP - can make more money than that by holding another regular-season game. And, since conference tournaments count as one game toward the NCAA limit of regular season games, they could hold another regular-season game.
2) It gives the WAC a chance to get another team into the NCAA tournament. In theory, yes, but it's never happened. Every WAC team that has qualified for the NCAA tournament probably would have made the NCAAs anyway, regardless of its showing in the WAC tournament. And besides, there is an equal chance that the tournament will serve the opposite purpose: it could prevent a team from making the NCAA field that otherwise might have made it. Majerus thinks BYU is in that position now.
3) It creates season-long interest for the teams that finish at the bottom of the regular-season standings. Maybe, but it's at the expense of the league's best teams (see below).
4) It brings publicity to the WAC. Sure. The publicity usually runs something like this: WAC favorites tumble in tournament. Is this good? Only twice in the seven-year history of the WAC tournament has the regular-season champion won it, and one of them was a tri-champion.
During the last four years the WAC hasn't even allowed the regular-season champ to be the tournament's home team. The tournament is held instead at a predetermined site, supposedly to allow more advance sales and better crowds. Not surprisingly, it's been five years since a regular-season champion won the tournament.
So, what to do? How about following the lead of the Pac-10 , which dropped its four-year-old tournament this year. "I think you might see more of that," says Reid.
Let's hope so.