Other tournament formats the MAC might have considered
As I recently observed, the new MAC tournament format for men’s and women’s basketball looks like something the BCS might have thrown together. In the course of looking at it, I found four criteria identified by MAC officials, plus a fifth implicit criterion:
- Challenge the status quo (MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher)
- Reward regular-season performance (Steinbrecher)
- Allows men’s and women’s tournaments to be held simultaneously (Buffalo AD Warde Manuel)
- Greater likelihood of top teams receiving NCAA automatic bids (Manuel; Miami AD and Chair of the MAC Council of Directors of Athletics Brad Bates; Bowling Green AD and Chair of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee Greg Christopher)
- Continue to include all teams (implicit)
Even though no MAC official commented on it, it’s worth explicitly stating the fifth point, because it’s one that other MAC sports do not adhere to. The MAC tournaments for baseball, softball, volleyball, and women’s soccer take only the top eight teams in a more traditional elimination tournament structure (baseball and softball are double elimination, however), and there’s not necessarily any reason that the basketball tournaments must take all 12 teams. I’ve identified a number of other tournament formats the MAC might have considered, all of which would meet the above criteria.
The MAC could emulate the football postseason’s bowl game structure, which, despite some perennial fan complaints, has been highly successful for nearly 110 years. At the end of the season, some coaches and media observers will rank the teams by poll. The top two teams will play for the MAC championship and NCAA automatic bid. All other teams will get a one-game neutral-site matchup with a team from the other division. The neutral sites will keep all revenue earned. If fan complaints are high, a “plus one” format could be considered.
2. The Snake
In Game 1, Team #12 will play against Team #11. In Game 2, the winner of Game 1 will play Team #10. In Game 3, the winner of Game 2 will play Team #9. And so on.
This tournament will use the standard 12-team structure as in the past, with the top four teams getting a one-round bye. However, the higher seeded team in each game gets to send one player for a 30-second “pop-a-shot” style bonus round after the final buzzer. Other team members may feed balls to the shooting player, who stands at the free-throw line. Each made shot during this period adds a point to the team’s final score. If teams are at least two seeds different, the higher seed also gets a pop-a-shot round after the end of the first half, and if the teams are at least four seeds different, the higher seeds gets an additional pop-a-shot round before the initial tip off.
4. Non-Binding Referendum
This tournament will use the standard 12-team structure as in the past. At the conclusion of each game, the higher seed is declared the winner, regardless of the final point totals.
Obviously there are also opportunities for combining some of the changes. For example, either the Basketbowls or The Snake tournament structure could be combined with either or both of the Pop-A-Shot and Non-Binding Referendum modifications. The MAC could innovate and “challenge the status quo” with a slightly different tournament format every year. To make it even more fun, the MAC Commissioner could keep the tournament format a secret until the last minute — even until the first game is underway. The unexpected nature of, say, the Pop-A-Shot modification being announced at the end of the first game could make a great sport even more fun!