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The Pac-10 Tournament : Yea or Nay?

The NCAA tournament opens up tomorrow (no, don't get me started on yesterday's "play-in" game), but before we get into full tournament mode, I have some unfinished business to discuss regarding the Pac-10 Tournament. Last week, I wrote up a post on the history of the tournament, and in it, I attempted to review the history surrounding the tournament and highlight what I thought of as some interesting and relevant trends. Perhaps my editorial point of view shone through in what I wrote; this would not surprise me at all. However, I had no conscious axe to grind when I was writing, so it surprised me somewhat to see comments like this:

"It seems like you’re not a fan of holding the tournament, right?"

"Wow Rags, that’s a pretty powerful take down of the rationale behind having a tournament."

Surprisingly enough, I had no intention of deliberately taking down the rationale behind the tournament, and my feelings on it are probably best described as 'ambiguous'. What do I really think about the tournament? In reality, I don't hate it; I think it's rather fun, actually. However, I DO hate that it's always held in LA, year after year. In my post, I pointed out that out of the six upsets in Pac-10 Tournament history, four of them were pulled off by the LA schools. Additionally, despite never having been seeded higher than 3rd, USC had made three of the seven previous conference finals, and one can't help but to think that home-town advantage played at least a part in the Trojans' success. This year's tournament only further exacerbated such arguments.

In three days, the 2009 Pac-10 Tournament set a record for the most 'upsets' in a tournament, with four. Three of those upsets were pulled by No. 6-seeded USC, who beat seeds No. 3, 2 and 4 in running through the field to an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament (No. 4 Arizona State pulled the other upset, knocking off No. 1 Washington in the semifinals). The record now stands as thus: USC has pulled off six of the ten upsets in tournament history, and has made half of the tournament finals, despite never being favored to reach there. No other team has a record of tournament success even close to this. You could perhaps make an argument that USC hasn't benefited from a home-town advantage, but I wouldn't buy it for a second.

However, USC's tournament championship did help to validate the tournament's existence. For the first time, a team with no shot at the NCAA tournament before the post-season began used the tournament and its automatic bid to play their way into the Big Dance. Leaving aside my feelings for all things related to USC (this may come as a surprise, but I'm not a fan), I think this is pretty cool. Now, you may not agree that a team that stumbles along during the regular season, only to get hot over the course of a three-day tournament, really deserves a shot at the National Championship, but the mere fact that such a team could actually accomplish this feat proves that the tournament is more than just a redundant late-season money grab. Moreover, since Arizona, a team firmly on the bubble before last week that lost an opening round game it was thought to need to win, actually got into the NCAAs anyway, you can pretty safely say that the tournament only helped the conference, and in no way hurt it.

The Pac-10 tournament has been described as a blatant money-grab, and as just an excuse to get more games on TV, with little regard to the academic effects on the student-athletes who participate. I wouldn't disagree with such descriptions, yet as a fan, I still find myself having fun watching the tournament. To be fair, I've also had fun watching "Beach Patrol : San Diego"; that doesn't imply that that show is a worthwhile endeavor, either. Nevertheless, I would support the continued existence of the tournament...IF the host city rotated geographically around the conference.

There are NBA-ready arenas within every Pac-10 state and near most of the Pac-10 campuses. The Tournament could easily be rotated between Seattle, Portland, the Bay Area (both Oakland and San Jose could host), LA, and Phoenix. With the event planned years in advance, I see no reason why Pac-10 fans would be less likely to travel to Phoenix or Portland as to Los Angeles. Of course, I could certainly anticipate that rotating the tournament could hurt the Pac-10's revenue stream, but as a fan, I couldn't care less whether it makes money or not. I'm OK that it does, but such considerations would absolutely not factor into my decision to support the tournament. What I'm not OK with is giving the Los Angeles schools an unfair, all-time hometown advantage. I am absolutely against this, to the point where if I had to decide between having a tournament, but always holding it in LA, or not having a tournament at all, I'd choose 'not at all'.

For me, it's just an issue of fairness, of every team in the conference having a fair shake at things once in a while. That's why I love that the conference plays a complete round-robin schedule; everybody plays everybody else, and you can't point to any team and say 'well, their team isn't great, but their schedule gives them a good chance to finish on top.' However, that's just one man's opinion. What do you think? Do you like the Pac-10 Tournament? Do you think the location should be rotated? Do you care at all?