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by Matt Kupec

March 10, 2019

I attended the Missouri Valley Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament for the first time this past weekend.  I was there to watch the Southern Illinois Saluki’s compete for the MVC Championship in hopes of coming away with three consecutive wins and the prize of a berth into the NCAA Men’s Tournament Championship.

Unfortunately, SIU came up short and lost a tight contest to the University of Northern Iowa Panthers on a last second bucket by UNI.  A very disappointing loss in a season that began with high hopes and ended in the resignation of Head Basketball Coach Barry Vinson.

I have attended many Atlantic Coast Conference Championships over the years when I was the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s vice chancellor for development & university relations.  I had seen many great games with Tar Heel victories and some disappointing losses as well.  During my twenty-one years at UNC, the Tar Heels won five ACC Tournament titles.

As I watching SIU compete Friday night, I began comparing the Missouri Valley Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournaments, thinking about the similarities and differences.  Here is my assessment:

  • More pressure on the MVC teams to win the tournament. The MVC has a storied and rich basketball history.   But as a mid-major conference, the MVC is often only offered one bid that goes to the winner of the tournament.  For sure, there have been years where multiple teams have been invited but this year only the winner of the MVC Tournament was going to be given a bid.  That equates to equal pressure on all 10 teams.  The ACC on the other hand will likely have eight teams that are assured of receiving Tournament bids even before the conference tournament begins and a ninth on the bubble.  The other six teams will need to win the Tournament to get an invite to the NCAA’s big dance.  While I understand the strength and depth of a major conference like the ACC that garners many invites, I like the MVC format where it so undecided for all teams and everybody goes into the tournament believing that they have a shot.
  • Stadium & Attendance. The MVC Tournament is held in the Enterprise Arena in downtown St. Louis.  It has been held there for many years and offers a good location for the 10 team MVC Conference.  The ACC Tournament is being held in the Time Warner Arena in Charlotte, NC this year.  Distance is a problem for Miami, Syracuse, Boston College, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame.  Both venues have a similar seating capacity although the Enterprise Arena had curtains that covered the upper section to hide the empty seats.  The ACC has no such problem.
  • Atmosphere.  One great similarity I noticed between the two conference tournaments was the excitement of the fan bases of all participating schools.  Conference basketball tournaments have become a major spectacle to bring fans to the host city for parties, receptions, and the basketball games.  They generate significant school pride and a way for alumni and friends to promote and show off their school pride and allegiance.
  • Overall Assessment. Both the Missouri Valley Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournaments are special events that bring great attention and excitement to member institution schools.  There are very few sporting activities like “March Madness” that captivate the attention of fans throughout the country.  These Conference Tournaments ramp up the excitement leading into the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and every school in America – even those with poor records entering the Tournament – believe they have a chance to earn their way into the NCAA Tournament.  Whether at a major conference like the ACC or at a mid-major conference like the MVC, fans alike share the excitement and dream of a significant run into the NCAA finals.  Both the ACC and the MVC share those same similarities.