Big East won't dump tourney format
After watching three of the top four seeds lose in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament last March, the conference's men's basketball coaches were in agreement that the double-bye system was unfair.
Losses by Syracuse, Villanova and Pittsburgh, which earned double-byes in the 16-team tournament at New York City's Madison Square Garden, was enough for a unanimous vote when the coaches met last May to do away with the system for the 2011 tournament.
But that vote wasn't enough to change the minds of the athletic directors and the conference board of directors as the league confirmed that the two-year old format won't change for 2011, Big East associate commissioner Tom Odjakjian said Tuesday night.
The top four teams in the league will continue to advance to the quarterfinals, waiting until Thursday to play. Teams 9-16 will play on Tuesday of Championship Week in the first round. The four winners will then meet teams 5-8 in the second round. The four winners in the second round will take on teams 1-4 in the quarterfinals. Last March, the only top four seed to advance was West Virginia, which ultimately won the tournament by beating Georgetown 60-58 in the final. Three of the four semifinalists -- Georgetown, Marquette and Notre Dame -- played in the second round.
"The coaches are 16-0 in favor of the change but it was tabled," said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, who was in Kansas City for the National Association of Basketball Coaches meeting. "We will still pursue it and discuss through the year and in Jacksonville at the [spring] meetings."
Brey said the coaches "felt the double bye was a killer and the stats prove it." But he said there wasn't enough time from the May meetings when the concept of returning to a straight tournament format like the NCAA tournament was presented to get everyone on board. Brey added that eliminating the Big East awards dinner on Monday night has hurt the league as former players still discuss the merits of the event. Now, the top four seeds don't arrive in New York until Wednesday.
"I never thought it was a done deal," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "Coaches are looking at the basketball part of it but the Big East is looking at a number of other different issues like financial issues [of having all 16 teams in New York on Monday]."
A number of schools are on spring break during the tournament, making loss of class time not as much of an issue.
"I think we have a very unique situation," Dixon said. "The strength of our conference means you're going to have upsets in our conference because you're playing top 25 teams in the final eight [of the Big East tournament]."
Dixon said Pitt's losses in the quarterfinals the last two years were to West Virginia and Notre Dame, two hot teams coming into the tournament.
"The separation from the No. 4 team to the No. 8 can be just a one-game difference," Dixon said. "And the unbalanced schedule means there isn't equity in the final standings."
Dixon said he liked that every team could get there at the same time so the teams and fans could book travel early. Teams, he said, would know they were playing Tuesday every year under a more traditional format, but in the current format a team doesn't know early in the year if it's playing on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. And Dixon said there are some instances, like his team last season, when a team didn't know if it was going to play on Tuesday or Thursday since it could have finished anywhere from four to nine.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.