This season sees a decent number of four-team tournaments in the early portion of the college basketball season. I wouldn't say it's a major increase or decrease over previous years, but with the many challenges schools face in building a schedule every year, the format of many of these events have changed significantly over the past couple of seasons. In many cases, schools are getting more bang for their travel dollar and scheduling slot by eschewing traditional elimination tournaments for round-robin events. After the jump, I'll explain why there's been a noticeable increase in these events in recent seasons.
For starters, four-team events can be exempt, but only if they take on a round-robin format. This solves a problem that had been causing many four-team events to disappear. As two game events aren't exempt, it meant that three teams at a traditional four-team event were losing two slots on their schedule with away games. The round-robin event, on the other hand, gives teams three (or four) games, but at the cost of only one slot on the schedule. Additionally, there is a financial savings in playing three opponents during a single road trip, particularly if a school can schedule an additional home game or two to produce some additional revenue.
As you'd expect, teams from outside of the BCS conferences primarily feature in these round-robin events. Only four are going to be hosted by BCS conference schools (Providence, Texas Tech, Oregon, and Washington), and only one will feature two BCS schools in the same field (Oregon State will join the Red Raiders at the Duel in the Desert in Lubbock). Many events provide meetings for schools in the same geographic area, however. Providence will host Bryant in the WorldVision Basketball Invitational (not the Classic [in Albuquerque] or the Challenge [in Laramie] and the Basketball Travelers Invitational (not Tip-Off Classic [in Eugene]) will see a matchup between Weber State and homestanding Utah State.
The round-robin event that takes this to the extreme is the unique West Coast Classic, which is a five-team event featuring teams from the five Western conferences that don't feature in BCS World. Fresno State (WAC), Northern Arizona (Big Sky), Pacific (Big West), San Diego State (MWC), and Santa Clara (WCC) will all play each other, with each school getting two home and two away games.
Round-robin play also helps organizers at a time when there's a lot of competition between multi-team events. Take the Great Alaska Shootout, for example. As ESPN has built a stable of early season events to fill the early part of the season, the Shootout fell by the wayside. TV coverage for last year's tournament was non-existent, and the field (Alaska-Anchorage, Hampton, Louisiana Tech, Northern Illinois, Portland State, San Diego State, Seattle, and Western Carolina) reflected this. Now, it could have been worse, as the Top of the World Classic in Fairbanks, which had gone without TV coverage for several years, folded right before the 2008 edition. This year, the Anchorage event couldn't pull together a full eight team field, despite the presence of Oklahoma and Washington State.
The Shootout was able to get six teams together; however, so teams will be guaranteed three games in a non-traditional way. The six entrants will be broken up into two pools of three, clashing in placement games at the end of the round-robin.
Even more traditional tournaments are getting into the act. After years of only four teams getting the full scheduling benefit of playing in exempt events, the NIT Season Tip-Off, Gazelle Group events, and Basketball Tournaments, Inc. events all include some mechanism where teams who don't make (or aren't selected for) the final rounds of events have the opportunity to play more games. In the case of the NIT and Gazelle Group, teams that don't make the semifinals play a couple of games at the site of school eliminated in the early rounds. Basketball Tournaments, Inc. conducts its tournaments in two flights. The favored teams first host the lesser regarded teams, then face off with each other, while the underdogs play in a bracket of their own--all at the same site.
The growth of these tournaments is a trend that should continue in the next few seasons. As for this year, be sure to check out the Multi-Team Event Page for more information about round-robin tournaments and all of the other early season showcases for 2009-10.