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Conference Tournaments 2018: What’s New

Last night, this season’s Championship Fortnight tipped off with the ASUN’s quarterfinals. This evening, both the Big South and Patriot will pare their fields down to eight teams from 10. With that in mind, it’s time to examine what’s new in this season’s crop of 32 Division I men’s conference tournaments.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament Final-Michigan vs Wisconsin
The Big Ten Tournament champ will be cutting the nets down a full week early in 2018.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten Plays Early

The biggest Championship Fortnight news of 2018 is fairly dated (seriously, look at the time stamp), so I’ll keep this short. The Big Ten Tournament will begin this Wednesday, February 28th and conclude one week before Selection Sunday, on March 4th. This schedule was the only way the conference was going to be able to play at New York’s Madison Square Garden with the Big East Tournament holding firm to its traditional Selection Week dates.

The American Fills The Void On CBS

Usually, the Big Ten semifinals fill the bulk of CBS’s schedule on Selection Eve, with the conference’s championship game serving as the lead-in to the Selection Show. But with the conference playing a week early, with its championship game following the Arch Madness finale on March 4th, the American Athletic Tournament ’s semifinals and final will fill the Big Ten’s typical spots.

The Selection Show Moves To TBS

However, the American Athletic championship game will not serve as a direct lead-in to this season’s Selection Show. That’s because it’s moving to TBS. As long as the CBS/Turner partnership continues, the Selection Show and Final Four will appear on the same outlet — TBS in even years, CBS in odd years.

The Selection Show will also be extended to two hours, since that worked oh so well in 2016.

Net-Cutting Schedule

If you want the full lineup of tournament games, Conference Tournament Central is live and for the first time will feature a chronological schedule right at the top that’s updated daily. However, if you’re most interested in championship games, here’s when they’re scheduled for 2018, in rough tip time order.

Saturday, March 3: OVC

Sunday, March 4: Big South, MVC*, ASUN, Big Ten*

Monday, March 5: MAAC, SoCon

Tuesday, March 6: Horizon, NEC, CAA*, WCC, Summit

Wednesday, March 7: Patriot*

Thursday, March 8 and Friday, March 9: NONE

Saturday, March 10: America East, MEAC, SWAC, MW*, Big 12, Big East*, MAC, Big Sky, ACC, C-USA*, Southland, Pac-12*, WAC, Big West

Sunday, March 11: Ivy, A 10*, SEC, Sun Belt, American*

This season, 23 of the 32 championship games will air on an ESPN outlet, with the leagues marked with an asterisk the exceptions. Seven of those remaining nine will air on either CBS or CBSSN with Fox or FS1 picking up the other two.

Who’s Newly Eligible

Abilene Christian (Southland), Grand Canyon (WAC), Incarnate Word (Southland), and UMass Lowell (America East) are all newly-eligible this season. However, Incarnate Word is the only one of the four assured of not making its NCAA bow this season, as the Cardinals are currently 1-15 in the Southland, tied for 12th in a conference that only places its top eight teams in its bracket. Abilene Christian, curiously, is currently tied for eighth with McNeese State Cowboys.

Who’s Ineligible

While Savannah State will begin its transition to Division II after the 2018-19 academic year, the Tigers entered this season as one of the four Division I teams ineligible for the postseason due to APR penalties. But the Tigers, currently in a five-way tie for first in the MEAC, were granted a waiver. That leaves Alabama A&M and Grambling State from the SWAC and Southeast Missouri State of the OVC as the only three ineligible teams for 2018.

Site Changes (That Don’t Involve The Big Ten)

Last season, the American Athletic Conference switched its conference tournament site to Hartford from 2017 NCAA first weekend site Orlando. Now that it’s 2018, the City Beautiful will host — for the second time in three years.

This will be the second season for the ACC at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, meaning the arena’s usual Championship Fortnight tenant, the Atlantic 10, is on the move again. Last season, the conference held its eliminations in Pittsburgh, this time, Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. has hosting honors.

Little Caesars Arena is open in downtown Detroit, which means the Horizon League will play there after two seasons at Joe Louis Arena.

The SEC takes a break from its usual Nashville haunts for a season in St. Louis. The ScottTrade Center, also the home to the MVC’s Arch Madness, will join the Orleans Arena in Vegas (WCC and WAC) and Madison Square Garden (Big Ten and Big East) as the only venues to host conference tournaments during both weeks of the fortnight.

The OVC also departed Nashville, after 15 years, for the Ford Center in Evansville, Ind., home floor of the MVC’s Evansville Purple Aces.

While the SWAC kept its conference tournament in Houston, the venue for the semifinals and finals is shifting from the Toyota Center downtown to Houston ISD’s Delmar Fieldhouse, a new facility that opened a year ago. Like 2017, the four quarterfinals will be played at campus sites.

But the Most Radical Move Award for 2018 goes to Conference USA which left Birmingham after three years — for the Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. That’s the Dallas Cowboys’ indoor practice facility/high school football stadium. The venue will have a dual-court setup for both the men’s and women’s tournaments, with the four men’s opening round and quarterfinal games all set for the evening sessions. On each of those nights, a doubleheader will tip at 7 p.m. Eastern on one court with another following on court two one half-hour later.

TV Coverage Changes

Not only did ESPN sublicense the American Athletic’s semifinals and finals to CBS for Selection Weekend, but the Worldwide Leader lost a few other Championship Fortnight games. For starters, ESPN outlets will no longer cover any early-round action from the Big Ten Tournament, as all games up to the semifinals will appear on BTN. And as this is an even-numbered year, FS1 will air the late quarterfinal, semifinal, and championship game of the Pac-12 Tournament. Those games appear on ESPN outlets in odd-numbered seasons.

With the Big Ten Tournament gone, and not just due to its early date for 2018, ESPN will air the first two SEC Tournament quarterfinals on Friday, March 9th. Typically, the entirety of that event’s first three rounds air on SEC Network.

Among the mid-majors, the Big Sky arranged for its opening round to appear on and for Eleven Sports, which took over the spot on many channel guides One World Sports formerly occupied, to air its quarters and semifinals. The CAA severed ties with the NBC Sports Group, so its quarterfinals will now be streamed on, while CBSSN will continue to air the semifinals and final. Stadium will air the four C-USA quarterfinals, which makes sense considering American Sports Network had those games a season ago. Similarly, the A 10’s first round doubleheader is also slated to appear on Stadium, along with select Patriot League Tournament games, while the Mountain West’s opening tripleheader is destined for Stadium on Facebook Live. ESPN3 and NEC Front Row will both stream the Northeast Conference’s semifinals, with the conference’s service offering up the quarterfinals. Meanwhile, both ESPN3 and Fox Sports Go will stream the first two rounds of Arch Madness, though blackouts will apply. ESPN3 will also stream the WAC Tournament’s quarters and semis.

As for the WCC Tournament, will stream the opening round and first quarterfinal doubleheader, with BYU TV and a hodgepodge of Western regional sports networks providing TV coverage. The second quarterfinal doubleheader, semifinal, and final will all be easier to find, since they’re set for ESPN outlets.