Among the topics up for discussion at the Big East meetings this week is how to handle a 17-team tournament. It is easily one of the biggest issues of contention for the basketball coaches to discuss. The 16 team tournament has it's own drawbacks, of course, but has been a favorite of coaches, to whom it allows a late-seas0n redemption.
Yesterday, UConn's Jim Calhoun told reporters that if he were the commissioner, he would only invite the top-12 teams each season. As a coach, however, he said that he prefers the all-inclusive system.
Stunning tournament runs like UConn's run from the first day to the title this season, or Jerry McNamara carrying the Syracuse Orange to an NCAA berth the hard way have been television gold for the conference. Can the gold still be mined if the tournament expands to 17? How would they structure such a beast?
According to a West Virginia newspaper:
The most likely model has 10 teams playing five games on the opening day, with the league's fifth, sixth and seventh seeds joining on the second day and then following the league's current format for the final three days.
The league's athletic directors will also consider having only the conference's top 12 teams play in the tournament, though that measure was voted down three years ago so all 16 teams could have the benefit for fans and recruits alike of knowing they'd play in Madison Square Garden every year. Another option would have the league's 16th and 17th teams meeting on campus as a play-in game before the tournament began with its current 16-team format in Manhattan.
The "play-in" model would deny at least one member a chance to make the trip to Manhattan for the Big East tournament, but it would also be the lowest-impact change for the format. After debating over the bye and double-bye and the number of teams invited, the current 16-team bracket and structure has survived each attempt to change it.
A play-in game would allow it to survive once more.
Head coaches may fear the possibility of being left out of the annual pilgrimage to Madison Square Garden. If that is the driving force behind the restructuring -- and it just might be -- expect to see the bottom-ten teams opening the tournament up at MSG.