One of the bigger upsets during conference tournament play last season was Albany’s win over regular season champion Stony Brook in the semifinals of the America East tournament. That contest drew added attention due to the fact that the Great Danes, who went on to represent the league in the NCAA tournament, hosted the first two rounds of the tournament. Even though the setup was known going into the season, the fact that a lower-seeded team could host a tournament game against a higher-seeded team didn’t sit well with many.
On Thursday the conference announced a change in its tournament format for the 2015 and 2016 editions, going to a model in which the higher-seeded team will host each game of the America East tournament. The tournament will also be re-seeded after the quarterfinal round, meaning that the highest remaining seed would host the lowest remaining seed in one semifinal game and the other two semifinalists playing in the other.
The last time the conference used this particular format was back in 1995.
“This is great for our league,” Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell said in the release. “We have great home court venues and enthusiastic fan bases across the conference. To be rewarded for a great regular season and have an opportunity to play in front our fans and bring a piece of March Madness to multiple campuses is really exciting.”
While most would prefer a neutral site for conference tournaments, the fact of the matter is that not all leagues can do thanks to issues such as fan attendance. Playing a tournament on campus, in theory, addresses that issue but other problems can arise like the one Stony Brook faced last season. The new format does add weight to the regular season, rewarding the teams that perform well throughout the season with home-court advantage.
“Moving to this high-seed format and re-seeding the bracket enables us to protect our best teams, the teams that have shown their mettle over the course of a 16-game schedule,” Vermont director of athletics Robert Corran noted in the release. “This will put the conference in a better position to send its best representative forward to the NCAA tournament and obtain its best possible seed. We felt that was very important for the health of men’s basketball in our conference both in the short and long term.”
Last season Albany, seeded fourth, became the first team since the 1993 Delaware (now in the CAA) squad to win the league’s automatic bid despite not being one of the top two seeds in the event. Was this enough to change the way in which the conference determines its NCAA tournament representative? Apparently so.