King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Conference tournament madness: It's fun to watch the small-timers if you don't mind rooting for the overdog. Plus: Chicago Olympics. And: Barry's big head.

Published March 7, 2007 5:00PM (EST)

It's conference tournament time in college basketball, as you may have gathered if you've been near a television set. We're transitioning from the smaller conference tourneys, which are mostly over, to the major conferences, which are just about to start.

That means we're moving from the moderately interesting conference tournaments to the big overhyped wastes of time. We've been over this before. And yeah, ACC fans, I know yours is pretty good even though the top 30 or 40 teams or whatever it is are guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

You know what I hate about the three weeks leading up to the big Tournament? The seeming inability of the commentariat to get through them without using the clichés "punch their ticket" and "big dance" at least once per sentence. As in, "Winthrop punched their ticket to the big dance by beating VMI Saturday."

And let's not even talk about teams that are "goin' dancin'."

Here are the teams that have, er, qualified for the, uh, NCAA men's Tournament. Gee, that was hard.

Belmont (Atlantic Sun Conference)
Winthrop (Big South)
Virginia Commonwealth (Colonial)
Wright State (Horizon)
Niagara (MAAC)
Oral Roberts (Mid Continent)
Creighton (Missouri Valley)
Eastern Kentucky (Ohio Valley)
Davidson (Southern)
North Texas (Sun Belt)
Gonzaga (West Coast)
Pennsylvania (Ivy League)

All but Penn qualified by winning their conference tourney, including Wright State, Oral Roberts and North Texas on Tuesday night. The Ivy League sends its regular-season champ to the big -- to the Tournament. Go, Ivy League.

Conference tournaments underway are the America East, Big Sky, MEAC, Mountain West, Northeast, Patriot and WAC.

The big boys get going in the next two days, starting with the Big East and Pac-10 Wednesday. Also Wednesday: the Atlantic 10, Big West, Conference USA, MAC and SWAC. On Thursday, the ACC tournament begins, along with the Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and -- how'd it get in this group? -- the Southland.

I won't bore you again with why I dislike the major conference tournaments. Abridged edition: They're pointless -- but I do kind of like the smaller-conference versions.

Televised college basketball in the regular season is a steady parade of major-conference powerhouses. Without any particular effort, you can catch about a third of the schedule of any of the top three or four teams in any of the majors except the Pac-10 -- which has the worst TV contract this side of the NHL.

Conference tournament season is the one time of the year when it's possible without being an obsessive to catch the Wright States and VCUs and Eastern Kentuckys of the world in their natural habitats, not just when they're getting pounded by a 1- or 2-seed 1,000 miles from home in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The main problem with the conference tournaments, and it's a huge one, is that the only thing they can accomplish, other than making money for the schools, is to lower the quality of the big Tournament.

Most of the smaller conferences are only going to send one team to the NCAAs, and the automatic bid goes to the tournament winner, not the regular-season winner. If the champ, which has established itself as the best the league has to offer over two months of play, has a bad night and gets knocked off, exciting as that moment is, it just makes the odds of that conference's representative pulling off the big upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament that much longer.

In conferences with enough pull to send more than one team, a surprise winner of the tournament means an extra team from that conference gets a bid. All that does is knock off some bubble team, and none of us needs to spill any tears for bubble teams, which have a tendency to be mediocre squads from major conferences. The ninth-best Big East team. That sort of thing.

But that bubble team is probably a better club than the surprise small-conference tournament champ, and the switch affects the overall quality of the NCAA Tournament.

Also, the potential for a surprise conference champ to crash the party has fans all over the country -- fans of bubble teams -- tuning in to these smaller conference tourneys and rooting for the favorite. That's no fun.

I root for the favorites too, because I plan to root for them again next week when they play North Carolina or Kansas or Ohio State, and I want to root for the team with the best chance to pull the upset.

It's a problem that I don't know what to do with. Maybe nothing. It's still pretty cool when ESPN points its cameras at North Texas vs. Arkansas State and acts like the whole thing means something.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Chicago's Olympics trump card: No traffic jams! [PERMALINK]

The Chicago Tribune reports that the city's bid for the 2016 Olympics has found an unexpected booster. A descendant of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who founded the modern Olympic Games in 1896, lives in Lincoln Park.

Gilles de Navacelle, 63, is the great-grandson of de Coubertin's sister Marie. The Olympics founder died in 1937, but de Navacelle says his great uncle would have loved the idea of a Chicago Games. De Coubertin wrote glowingly of the city in an 1893 book, calling it a "Yankee city par excellence," and wanted the 1904 Olympics to be held there.

A group of officials from the U.S. Olympic Committee visited Chicago Tuesday to evaluate the city's 2016 bid.

The Games were awarded to Chicago for 1904, but de Coubertin was forced to switch them to St. Louis at the last minute so they wouldn't get overshadowed by the World's Fair, whose organizers had threatened to stage their own athletic competition. The Olympics ended up as a side attraction to the fair.

De Navacelle praises Chicago on the usual grounds -- "It is a city with great openness about culture, one of the last major cities in the United States that has retained a downtown with a lively atmosphere," etc. -- and also makes one highly unorthodox point.

"There is an openness to Chicago that is very inviting," he says. "You're not squeezed onto an island like Manhattan or stuck in traffic like Los Angeles."

Openness. I've never heard it described that way. Chicago is one of my favorite cities, but it has never occurred to me that I've never felt squeezed onto an island in, say, Schaumburg. Adrift in a box store wasteland maybe, but not squeezed onto an island is such a nice way to put it.

But not stuck in traffic? Are we talking about the Chicago in Illinois?

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Enough about Barry Bonds' oversize noodle [PERMALINK]

Everyone: Please stop talking about Barry Bonds' gigantic head.

His hat size has grown since the late '90s from 7 to 7 and a quarter, according to the authors of "Game of Shadows," which is not the kind of thing grown-up humans' heads do without help. That's not the issue.

The issue is 7 and a quarter is not a big head. My hat is four sizes bigger than Barry's. And it's been as big as it's been for as long as I've been buying hats that come in numbered sizes. Four sizes. And I've never touched human growth hormone. The guy does not have a gigantic head.

Previous column: An Irish basketball adventure

- - - - - - - - - - - -

  • Bookmark to get the new Kaufman column every day.
  • Get a Salon Sports RSS feed.
  • Discuss this column and the sports news of the day in Table Talk.
  • To receive the Sports Daily Newsletter, send an e-mail to

  • By Salon Staff

    MORE FROM Salon Staff

    Related Topics ------------------------------------------