But outside the field of 68 teams, ominous signs proliferate.
In addition to the National Collegiate Athletic Association's tournament, and the National Invitational Tournament, there are a couple of vanity tournaments. But athletic directors are thinking more carefully about paying to play in those tournaments.
As of Monday evening, the CollegeInsider.com tournament had announced 26 teams instead of its planned 32, and the Vegas 16 announced a field of eight instead of 16.Call the roll of teams that thought better of it.
Evansville, Northwestern, Kansas State and Penn State were among the other teams that said they had declined postseason invitations to one or more tournaments and chose instead to end their season.The most notorious team to take its toys and go home is Louisiana State, which got off to a promising start, then faded.
Privately run tournaments like the College Basketball Invitational and the CollegeInsider.com event tend to make financial demands on teams as well, asking them to pay to host a game, though some or all of that can be defrayed by ticket sales.
LSU enjoyed wins over NCAA Tournament teams Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M this season and a two-point loss to then-No. 1 Oklahoma, but the Tigers lost three straight regular season games in mid-to-late February to fall into the 90s in Ratings Percentage Index and out of the NCAA Tournament running.Colorado State also decided it was time to put the unis in mothballs.
CSU players had said during the Mountain West tournament that they would like to keep playing, if the opportunity presented itself. [head coach Larry] Eustachy said players and coaches would meet before making any decisions.Sometimes, the irony is palpable.
“If their heart’s not into it, it’s just a waste of time, and sometimes it becomes embarrassing, and they don’t deserve that,” he said after a practice last week.
Steve Cottingham, CSU’s executive associate athletic director, said through a school spokesman that finances were not a factor in the decision. Bids to host games in the CBI include financial guarantees, and the new Vegas 16, which was reduced to an eight-team field Monday, was planning to charge an entry fee of $50,000 a team in exchange for providing air transportation and lodging for the participants, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
At Wisconsin - Milwaukee, another team that had a promising start, the withdrawal from any dance card might be a symptom of deeper troubles.
Like all state schools, UWM has been hit hard by state-mandated budget cuts and [athletic director Amanda] Braun faces tough decisions when it comes to spending money. But program boosters would have covered the costs incurred by participating in a tournament.Perhaps the days of Everybody Has Won and Everybody Must Be Given A Prize are coming to an end. We will have confirmation when some of these vanity tournaments close shop.
"It wasn't about funding," she said. "Middle of the pack, that is not the standard for Milwaukee athletics — not for any of our programs. We're not going to invest money just to say we played more games."
Several players tweeted their frustration at being denied a chance to continue their season. In light of what they went through last year, even one additional game in a "quote-unquote" postseason tournament would have been a reward for their hard work.
Surely, Braun could understand their disappointment?
"I can understand people feeling that way," she said. "Everyone has their own perspective. Everybody wants to play more games. But maybe not every player on the team is interested in that quote-unquote postseason."
If she polled them, she might arrive at a different conclusion.