SoCon making changes to annual tourney format

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When the Southern Conference meetings ended on Friday, a head count revealed that the league still had the same number of schools as it did when the meetings began. That was the main positive to come out of the sit-a-thon. With the Colonial Athletic Association losing several members in recent weeks, the SoCon has been a frequent topic of choice in the realignment rumor mill.

With that in mind, member schools and administrators agreed to some cosmetic tweaks to the annual postseason basketball tournament – ones that may make the league membership happier and lead to a more visible and marketable conference. In a way, they seek to stave off a raid by the CAA by putting on similar clothes and blending in.

The biggest change involves first-round conference tourney byes. Previously, the first and second-place finishers in each of the SoCon’s two divisions gained an extra day’s postseason rest. That led to scenarios like the one described by the Chattanooga Times Free Press:

This past season, UNC Greensboro won the North Division and Elon finished second at 9-9 to earn byes. Davidson won the South while Wofford and GSU tied for second at 12-6 with Wofford earning the bye via tiebreaker. Under the new format, byes would have gone to UNCG, Davidson, Wofford and GSU.

“This gets the four teams that are most deserving of byes getting byes,” UTC coach John Shulman said. “If the goal is to get our best team to go to the NCAAs, that should take care of our four best teams.”

Do we all enjoy March upsets? Yes, most of us. But the people in charge of marketing the league would rather see two 12-6 teams in the semis than admit a 9-9 finisher from a weaker subdivision.

The league, which is home to strong mid-major squads like Davidson and the College of Charleston, also altered the regular season, going to a shorter 16-game league slate so that more money making profile enhancing non-conference guarantee games can be added to the schedule.

In a somewhat amusing reversal of fortune, the school’s football powerhouses were forced to cede power to the basketball leaders, as evidenced by a rather blunt quote from SoCon commish John Iamarino.

“We understand that App State and Georgia Southern have been fairly public about aspirations to move to the Bowl Subdivision, but as their coaches and administrators said, you need an invitation and their phone isn’t ringing. They’re happy to be in the SoCon and we’re happy to have them. So we look forward to continuing with them.”

Seein’ as how they have nowhere to go and all.