Vikes, More Vikes!

Peter Griffith

(Brent Schwert)

Due to a snowstorm in Grinnell, Iowa that knocked out power in Grinnell’s Darby Gymnasium, the championship game of the men’s MWC basketball tournament was postponed a day and moved to Knox College in Galesburg, Ill.
Then the same snowstorm that hit Grinnell moved east and knocked out power in Galesburg, forcing a second postponement and movement, this time to nearby Monmouth, Ill. at Monmouth College.
In an odd sort of way, six of the 10 MWC schools were involved in the tournament this year. Now maybe I’m just a bitter fan of the fifth-place team in a conference that only has four playoff sports, but if you ask me, six is at least two teams too few.
I assume the reason the MWC hosts only a four-team tournament is financial. This, obviously, is hard to argue about.
I am certainly not in favor of spending much more money on athletics at a DIII school. But if it were possible to fund a larger tournament, it wouldn’t just help Lawrence, St. Norbert and Monmouth, all of whom finished within a game of having a winning record in conference play.
It would help the true best team in the conference emerge as it’s NCAA representative – which should be the goal of the tournament.
Four teams seems almost absurdly arbitrary considering the 10 teams that play for 10 weeks during the regular season. A two-round tournament such as our simple semifinals-finals format is a huge contrast from the conference season.
A more representative – which, remember, is our goal – way to cap the regular season would be a three- or four-round tournament (eight and 10 teams respectively, the latter with byes) whose length would more closely resemble the strenuous nature of conference play.
Just as a long conference season helps to ensure the best team has the best record, a longer tournament would give the best overall – which includes most fit – team the best shot at winning.
Supporters of the four-team format will argue that it makes the regular season more important and increases competitiveness all season, which is somewhat true.
But it also places a much bigger emphasis on the importance of the tournament, which is a format that is not necessarily likely to favor the team that won the regular season.
So who do we want winning the MWC: the conference’s best team, or the team with the best two-game push at the end of the season?
Take, for example, this year’s tournament. I don’t think any coach in the league will argue that, at least by the end of the season, Grinnell was the best team in the league.
But all it took was one bad night against Lake Forest in the semifinals of the MWC to end the Pioneers’ season. Grinnell has always had trouble with Lake Forest, and the next night Carroll beat the Foresters to win the tournament.
Give me a longer tournament in which each team has to earn their way into the later rounds and I think Grinnell has a much better shot at reaching the finals – a game which would likely pit Grinnell vs. Carroll, the legitimate two best teams in the MWC. That’s the game we all would have liked to see.
Lake Forest was very good and knew how to handle Grinnell’s system, but they were not the better team. In an eight-team tournament, LFC faces Lawrence in the first round, the winner getting a shot in the semifinals against the Grinnell/Beloit winner.
Even if LFC gets by LU, they’re tired the next day while Grinnell’s starters are well rested from a cakewalk win over Beloit.
If LFC still beats Grinnell, well, props to them. Maybe they’re the better team. But I wouldn’t bet on it.
Sure, the possibility of upsets is just as real in any single-elimination tournament, but more of the elements of the regular season are represented in a longer tournament – stamina, focus over a longer set of games, and the presence of good-but-not-great teams that are dangerous and make the regular season so much fun.
In conclusion, MWC, find a sponsor. Find 10. But find a way to pay for a bigger tournament.
Or else go with the old Big Ten/CCIW model – the winner of the regular season wins the conference’s automatic bid, which seems much more fair than an arbitrary, abrupt, and underrepresented four-team tournament.
Oh, and good luck, Carroll.