Thursday, April 24, 2014

Possible conference tourney scenario for 2015

The Mountain West needs a conference postseason softball tournament.  Plain and simple.  And there are a number of reasons why.

First, it improves a conference's national visibility.  There are a few conferences in the country (Pac-12, being the most noteworthy) that can afford not to have a postseason tournament.  With a bevy of nationally-televised games and the reputation of being the country's top conference, the Pac-12 gets as many as seven or eight NCAA bids each season.  The Mountain West, meanwhile, is lucky when it gets two.  The MW hasn't received multiple bids since BYU left the conference in 2011.

Second, it creates a conference bond.  It would provide one meeting place at the end of the season for coaches, student-athletes, and fans to unite.  Instead of handing out conference awards (Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, Pitcher of the Year, etc.) via a press release, it can all be done in person with teams present at a ceremony on the eve of the tournament.

Third, fairness.  The Mountain West will host its annual postseason baseball tournament in Las Vegas over five days, May 21-25, this year.  The baseball tourney host sites through the 2019 season have already been selected, signaling that it's here to stay.  Why not softball?  Baseball plays a round-robin schedule just like softball, so the fact that there is not a softball tourney, yet there is a baseball tourney raises eyebrows.  The conference hosts championships in 13 sports (baseball, men's basketball, women's basketball, cross country, football, men's golf, women's golf, women's soccer, women's swimming and diving, men's tennis, women's tennis, outdoor track and field, and indoor track and field.)  It could easily add softball, especially since the MW hosted a softball championship for seven seasons, beginning in 2000 and continuing through the 2006 season.  Five different seasons from 2000 to 2006, the Mountain West received multiple NCAA bids.  In 2006, when the conference hosted its final postseason championship tournament, the MW -- for the first time -- received a record three NCAA berths.  The very next season, once the postseason conference tourney was disbanded, the Mountain West dropped back to one NCAA bid.

Fourth, it creates a championship atmosphere.  This is a season where as many as six teams could win the conference title and the race is up in the air.  Imagine the exciting games that could take place this season in front of several thousand fans in one setting.  One of the nation's top fan bases and largest stadiums exists in the Mountain West.  Fresno State has ranked in the nation's Top 10 in softball attendance every year that the NCAA has kept attendance records.  The school has ranked No. 1 in average per game softball attendance 13 different seasons, more than any team in the country.  Simply put, a big stadium with big crowds provides a quality, championship atmosphere for everyone.  Heck, the Mountain West may even be able to swing a deal with a cable provider such as its conference-aligned CBS Sports Network or ESPNU to have one or more tourney games nationally televised, creating increased presence and visibility for the conference. While not every team in the MW has the facilities able to host a conference tourney, there is the option of moving the site from season to season.  San Diego State and UNLV, to name just two, would likely have the ability to host as well.  Though their stadiums aren't as big, they offer destinations where fans would want to travel.

Now that we've (hopefully) encouraged some dialogue to get a tourney at least up for consideration, let's examine a format.  A single-elimination tournament seems to be the way to go.  If you want to save pitchers' arms and create the best possible games, while keeping the tourney at a very manageable three days, here's an easy scenario with nine teams:

Thursday, 9 am GAME ONE - No. 8 seed vs. No. 9 seed
Thursday, 11:30 am GAME TWO - No. 1 seed vs. Game 1 winner
Thursday, 2 pm GAME THREE - No. 4 seed vs. No. 5 seed
Thursday, 4:30 pm GAME FOUR - No. 2 seed vs. No. 7 seed
Thursday, 7 pm GAME FIVE - No. 3 seed vs. No. 6 seed
Friday, 4:30 pm GAME SIX - Game 2 winner vs. Game 3 winner
Friday, 7 pm GAME SEVEN - Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner
Saturday, 1 pm CHAMPIONSHIP - Game 6 winner vs. Game 7 winner

So there you have it.  Quick and easy.  Eight games over three days.  Single elimination.  Every team advances to the postseason tournament, meaning every team has something to look forward to all season long.  Every team will have a chance at the end. With the current round-robin format, some Mountain West teams are playing for pride and nothing else after mid-April.  Holding a conference tournament ensures the team playing the best at the end of the season will advance to the NCAA Tournament.  And it also gives the Mountain West its best shot at grabbing multiple NCAA bids, while creating the best possible championship atmosphere for student-athletes.