Calling it an effort by members of the Mid-American Conference to “challenge the status quo,” Mid-American Conference commissioner Jon Steinbrecher announced Thursday dramatic changes to the men’s and women’s MAC basketball tournament, effective for the upcoming season.
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,” 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.
First-year Northern Illinois coach Mark Montgomery said he believed this change was something the head coaches in the conference wanted.
“It’s great to keep the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds all the way to the semifinals. It ensures that the two teams that had the more successful years are more likely headed to the postseason.
“The biggest thing in the MAC is hopefully you want to become a two-bid league.”
The concept of a multi-round bye in a conference tournament isn’t new to college basketball, though it is rarely used. The Horizon League gives a bye all the way to the semifinals for its top teams in its conference tournament. The Big East also gives a double bye to the top four teams, something that the conference’s coaches voted unanimously against in 2010, feeling the long layoff was to blame for the top seeds exiting the tournament early. But the league’s athletic directors kept it in place.
“You’ve still got to win the games in the tournament,” Montgomery said. “I think [Big East tournament champion and NCAA champion Connecticut] proved that last year.”
Also with this new format, there will be two women’s games in the afternoon and two men’s games in the evening for the second round and quarterfinals.