The first couple months of 2012 kind of dragged on but finally March has arrived. Of course the month of March is synonymous with one thing: College Basketball. Many people will equate the month of March and college basketball with just March Madness. However, true fans know that the third month of the year brings us college hoops fanatics so much more than just the NCAA Tournament.
I believe one of the greatest spectacles in sports is Championship Week for men’s NCAA Basketball. Championship Week is actually longer than a week. This year it started on March 1 and will run all the way through Selection Sunday on March 11. For those of you who don’t know, CW is the time where all the conferences who host post-season tournaments to decide automatic berths to the NCAA Tournament stage their competitions. Now I am not going to go as far as to say that Championship Week is better than (or on the same level as) the NCAA Tournament, but it is close. Without taking too much of your time, I hope to convey to you why CW is so awesome for fans and how it distinguishes itself from the NCAA Tournament. To cut it down to the basics, nothing beats Championship Week because of the inclusivity, the drama, and the scenery.
To me, Championship Week is a shortened, excitement-heightened, steroid-injected version of the regular season. Conferences will beat up on each other for three straight months pretty much only to put themselves in position for the conference tournament at the end of the season. Even if a certain team did not have the best results during the regular season, besides the seeding part of it, they have new life come the conference tournament. This is what I am talking about when it comes to inclusivity. Many of these post season tournaments that are played by the many conferences across the nation include most of their teams, if not all. Teams and fans alike can go into these tournaments totally disregarding the seeding and grasp onto a mindset that all they need to do is win a few games and they will be in the Big Dance….regular season be damned. There is just something special about seeing a whole conference come together at one site to battle it out for such a prestigious prize.
You can’t beat the drama of Championship Week. What you got to keep in mind is that pretty much all of the matchups that take place in these tournaments are teams playing each other for the third time that season. I won’t even start to get into all the clichés that are thrown out when teams play each other for the third time, but you know what I mean. All of the storylines, the bad blood, the controversies, and the trash talk are brought over from the regular season and magnified on the conference tournament stage. For the tournaments that take place on neutral courts, these matchups carry with it even more intrigue. What will happen when you take away the home court advantage between two teams that split during the regular season?
The drama that carries on from game-to-game in the conference tournaments is so much fun to watch as well. If there is a coach who is in his last season, all eyes are on him as he tries to prolong his career and help his team advance. If there is an NBA caliber player, especially in the conference tournaments where the only bid that is going to be given out is the automatic one, everyone is watching him. How will he make sure that his team will advance in the tournament? Can he play at his high level for four straight nights? If there is a whole team that has come under scrutiny during the season, their drama and dirty laundry is definitely going to be put under a microscope throughout the conference tournament. You see, these storylines must be magnified during the conference tournaments because it is that unique spot between the regular season and the NCAA Tournament….that spot where the stage is the highest it can be with almost everyone included.
My favorite aspect of the conference tournaments though is the scenery. I love the contrast that is involved. I can enjoy watching both the major conferences play in the greatest entertainment venues in the nation and then flip the channel and see two schools I have never heard of duking it out in some 1,000 seat gym. You can’t go wrong watching the premiere conferences play. The best conference tournament there is, the Big East Tournament, is played in Madison Square Garden. Before I die, I want to attend a Big East Tournament. All sixteen schools in the conference play in it over five days. I try to watch every single game I can. The tradition, the personalities, and stamina of that tournament radiates through the television screen and captivates any college hoops fan. As a Pac-12 guy, I love watching their conference tournament as well. Played in the Madison Square Garden of the West, the Staples Center, the tournament is definitely big time. Not only does the arena provide a great backdrop and atmosphere, I also get to watch the hottest sideline reporter in all of sports, Rebecca Haarlow, work the whole tournament. Talk about scenery! Growing up in Spokane, I obviously was a Gonzaga guy. I also have an obsession with Las Vegas. Because of these two traits of mine, the WCC Tournament staged at the Orleans in Sin City is also one of my favorite tournaments to watch. Just something about taking all of these Jesuit schools plus the one Mormon school (BYU) and throwing them in the Vegas environment to decide an automatic bid is pretty intriguing.
Although the glitzy big time arenas holding the elite tournaments do captivate me, I equally enjoy the obscure as well. Nothing gets me glued in more than watching the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship game or the Patriot League finale. Watching some of these games taking place in tiny gyms with overflow crowds is the best. The shaky camerawork at these sites that is attributed to the volume inside the facility gives me delight. As this is the only time that many of these conferences get any of their games on national television, fans are at their best. You can feel the passion and intensity from watching these games…no, you can’t get something like this during the NCAA Tournament. It truly is a unique experience.
Finally, because of the intercollegiate marketer that I am and because of my love for the college atmosphere, I crave the opportunity to see all of the mascots, spirit squads, and bands that are shown throughout Championship Week over and over again. So fun to see what everyone all around the nation is doing.
So by writing this blog post I definitely distracted myself from watching a lot of basketball that is on right now. Did you know that my city newspaper lists fifteen games that are going to be on local cable just today?! Heaven! Enjoy Championship Week everyone! Don’t Blink.