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2015-16 College Basketball Conference Tournaments: What's Changing (Updated)

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March of 2016 is quite a way's off, but it's not too early to take a look at what's on the horizon for the 2015-16 season's set of conference tournaments. Thanks to APR penalties and classification changes, not all of the 351 teams playing Division I schedules in the coming season will be eligible for the postseason. But, for the first time ever, every eligible team will have a chance at an automatic bid.

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Conference Changes

That's due to the only two league swaps that took place on July 1, a drastic drop from the scores of teams that switched allegiances on that date in the past two years. Plus, the first move directly led to the second, with the consequence being the death of the era of the Division I basketball independent.

The Northern Kentucky Norse, entering their final transition year on its journey to full DI membership, surprisingly left the conference that sponsored its entry, the Atlantic Sun, for the Horizon League. While the move brought NKU to a league it fit better with geographically, it was a bit surprising when you consider that the A-Sun even let Norse teams compete in conference championship events last year—a full two years before those squads could claim bids to NCAA championships. The Horizon, however, will extend this courtesy to NKU in 2016.

The A-Sun, likely feeling a bit jilted, turned to the NJIT Highlanders, who became the nation's lone independent when their former home, the Great West, was picked apart by a WAC that was on the verge of disintegrating itself. The Highlanders, long teased by the America East and NEC on the membership front, were more than happy to finally find a home, even if it's not the most geographically friendly partnership out there. Still, it's better than membership in the far-flung Great West.

Who Is Ineligible For The Postseason?

Even though grabbing NJIT kept the A-Sun's membership at eight, all of those teams might not end up participating in the men's basketball tournament. That's because the Stetson Hatters are one of four Division I basketball teams banned from the 2016 NCAAs due to Academic Progress Rate (APR) penalties. Maybe the conference will allow the Hatters to play, much like ineligible NKU participated in last season's event (falling in the quarterfinals). There is certainly precedent for such a decision, as the SWAC regularly allows APR-banned squads to participate in its postseason tournament—a situation to watch as Alcorn State Braves faces such a penalty season.

Besides the Hatters and Braves, the MEAC's Florida A&M Rattlers and Southland's Central Arkansas Bears will both sit the NCAAs out this season—the second in a row for both. Neither participated in their respective league shindigs in 2015.

Joining NKU in waiting out their NCAA transition period are a pair of Southland squads, the Abilene Christian Wildcats and Incarnate Word Cardinals, the WAC's Grand Canyon Antelopes, and America East's UMass Lowell River Hawks. While the Norse will be able to participate in NCAA championships in 2016-17, the rest will have to wait one further year.

Update 11/09/2015: The Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles proactively banned themselves from the 2016 NCAA Tournament, so they will once again also miss the Conference USA Tournament. 03/01/2016: The Louisville Cardinals, Missouri Tigers, and Pacific Tigers are also out, and they won't participate in their respective conference tournaments (the ACC, SEC, and WCC). The same goes for the Cal State Northridge Matadors, but not the Hawai'i Rainbow Warriors in the Big West. The Islanders are ineligible next season instead The SMU Mustangs were also banned, but by the NCAA, and before the season, so the American Athletic Tournament will only feature 10 teams.

Is Anyone Newly Eligible?

Yes. The Omaha Mavericks completed their move from Division II and will become the ninth eligible Summit League team this season. That might make the conference tournament, which featured a perfect eight-team format last season, slightly more complex. Edit 03/01/2016: Nope, only the top eight teams qualified.

Can You Summarize These Eligibility Differences?

Sure. Here is a list of the conferences affected by APR bans or transitional issues.

America East: 9 members, 8 postseason-eligible (minus UMass-Lowell)
American Athletic: 11 members, 10 postseason-eligible (minus SMU)
ACC: 15 members, 14 postseason-eligible (minus Louisville)
Atlantic Sun: 8 members, 7 postseason-eligible (minus Stetson)
Big West: 9 members, 8 postseason-eligible (minus Cal State Northridge)
C-USA: 15 members, 14 postseason-eligible (minus Southern Mississippi)
Horizon: 10 members, 9 postseason-eligible (minus NKU, who will participate in the conference tournament)
MEAC: 13 members, 12 postseason-eligible (minus Florida A&M)
SEC: 14 members, 13 postseason-eligible (minus Missouri)
Southland: 13 members, 10 postseason-eligible (minus Abilene Christian, Central Arkansas, and Incarnate Word)
SWAC: 10 members, 9 postseason-eligible (minus Alcorn State)
WCC: 10 members, 9 postseason-eligible (minus Pacific)
WAC: 8 members, 7 postseason-eligible (minus Grand Canyon)

Did Any Conference Tournaments Move For 2016?

Two conferences moved to neutral sites for the next few seasons. The Big Sky will play at the Reno (Nev.) Events Center for the next three years, while the Horizon League signed a five-year deal with Olympia Entertainment to play in Detroit. Joe Louis Arena will be the conference's home for the first two seasons, with three years in the new Detroit Arena completing the term.

The American Athletic Conference continued its tradition of keeping its event near one of its schools, inking a two-year contract with Orlando's Amway Arena, not too far from UCF.

Conference USA, meanwhile, decided to play in Birmingham for another season, even though it looked likely that the league would need to boot the host UAB for their temporary decision to drop football. The Pac-12 is also staying put in Las Vegas for 2016, and it's likely that if that event moves in 2017 it will only be to the new arena being built in town.

The ACC leaves Greensboro for the Nation's Capital for a year, though it won't return to North Carolina until 2019. That's because Brooklyn's Barclays Center, current home of the Atlantic 10 event, will welcome the ACC in 2017 and 2018. Charlotte hosts in 2019, with a return to Greensboro not on the cards until 2020. That means Jim Boeheim will probably never have to visit the city again, other than for ACC media days.

The Big Ten Tournament heads back to Indianapolis completing a four-year cycle of alternating hosting duties with Chicago. That event heads east for 2017 and 2018, with Washington, D.C. the site next season and Madison Square Garden in New York the location two campaigns from now.

Everyone else will play where they did last season, though you can expect more changes in 2017, as the Big 12's deal with Kansas City and the CAA's with Baltimore both end after this year, while the WAC could be leaving Las Vegas.

Update 11/09/2015: Well not everyone will stay put after all. The Big South pulled its tournament from the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers' home arena in response to their move to the Sun Belt for 2016-17. The Campbell Fighting Camels will host at their campus in Buies Creek, N.C. instead. Also, the Big 12 will stay put in Kansas City until 2020.

What About Format Changes?

As part of its move to a neutral site, the Big Sky Tournament will feature all 12 league members after featuring only eight in 2015 and seven the year before. Conference USA will also expand, from the 12 teams included last season to a full complement of 14. Update 11/09/2015: That's 13 with Southern Miss's exclusion.

In terms of structure, the Mid-American Conference scrapped the double-bye system that only required the league's top two seeds to win a pair of games to earn the auto bid. Considering the competitiveness and evenness of the conference the switch makes sense, since tiebreakers would often force teams into a more difficult tournament path than rivals with equivalent records.

The Metro Atlantic adopted the split quarterfinal system used by the MEAC and SWAC. Under this format, the top two seeds would play Thursday opening round winners in Friday's quarterfinals. The three and four seeds would play in another quarterfinal doubleheader on Saturday before, presumably, facing a rested one and two seed in Sunday's semifinals.

Otherwise, it looks like every other conference is sticking with the same format as last season. The ACC will play and extra Tuesday opening round game with Syracuse's return and the A-Sun may lose a quarterfinal if Stetson is ruled out. However, it's possible the Horizon changes its double-bye format with a move to a neutral site and the Summit might include all nine teams.

Updates 11/09/2015: The Horizon will keep its double-bye format in place, though it will add an opening round game with 10 teams involved this season. Meanwhile, the Atlantic Sun will invite all eight of its teams to the postseason with modified auto bid selection rules to reflect Stetson's participation. 03/01/2016: And with Louisville out of the ACC Tournament, there will again be two Tuesday games in Washington, D.C.

What About TV Changes?

Much of this information is not set yet, but the biggest change is that the Pac-12 Tournaments non-Pac-12 Networks games will appear on Fox Sports 1 instead of an ESPN outlet, since they alternate from season to season. That accounts for one quarterfinal, one semifinal, and the championship game.

The Missouri Valley Conference's entered a new media rights deal with ESPN, which impacts Arch Madness in an odd way. The sublicensing agreement ESPN renewed with CBS to air the Arch Madness final one week before Selection Sunday now extends to conference tournament semifinals, which will air on CBS Sports Network.

I'll update this post with further changes as I find out about them. In the meantime, 2015-16 Conference Tournament Central is live with all of the pertinent info for next March.

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