20.8.11

IT'S AMATEUR SPORTS.  IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH MONEY.  DeKalb Chronicle sports editor John Sahly begs to differ.
Last season, Akron was the [Mid American Conference] sixth seed and made a surprise run to the title. That looks almost impossible in the new [basketball tournament] format.

It was a great story for Akron, but not the MAC. The Zips were a No. 15 seed in the NCAA tournament and easily was bounced by Notre Dame in the first round. So long, extra money.

The MAC went with a plan that works. Protect your a$$et$.
The new tournament format? Call it Them That Has, Gets.
The top two seeds will receive a triple bye in the new format, automatically advancing them to the semifinals. Teams seeded No. 3 and 4 are rewarded with a double bye and will begin play in the quarterfinals.

The remaining teams, seeded 5-12, begin the first round on campus sites, with the women starting March 3 and the men starting March 5.

The winners of those campus site games will compete in the second round of the tournament at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, starting March 7. Those teams will have to win five games to win the tournament, while the top two seeds only have to win twice.

“The new format will increase the importance of each regular-season game and reward teams that excel during the regular season and bring greater value to the seeds earned by the top teams,” [commissioner Jon] Steinbrecher said in a news release.

It also protects the top teams in the conference from an early exit in the MAC tournament, something that doesn’t help at-large teams on Selection Sunday. The MAC has made it an objective since Steinbrecher became commissioner in 2009 to increase its national profile in basketball and become a multi-bid league in the NCAA tournament.
The flip side of protecting the stronger regular season teams is raising the stakes for the weaker regular season teams. There's probably a research project here: does the level of effort rise for all competitors as a competition approaches a winner-take-all format, or do some participants choose to underachieve?

The question isn't just for fun.  The Mid-American, a Rust Belt conference in Knute Rockne's back yard, has athletic programs that rely heavily on student fees for operating support.  Member universities tend to push the nontraditional-first generation-working adults themes in their recruiting: is the benefit-cost ratio of a positional arms race in March Madness favorable?  Hint: the conference basketball tournaments have been in Cleveland for approximately forever: no jousting by Indianapolis or Chicago or even Detroit to get it.

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