This past week I had the pleasure of covering the Big Ten tournament for the first time. I must say, I was not disappointed with what I saw.
With a total paid attendance of 124,543, the Big Ten deserves a big pat on the back.
But every year around this time, there is debate as to whether conference tournaments are good for college basketball.
The most recent outspoken critic is Kentucky coach John Calipari. He's on the record as saying conference tournaments "are a waste of time."
Louisville coach Rick Pitino falls on the other side of that argument.
"Conference tournaments are a great way for the smaller teams to impress the [NCAA tournament] selection committee," Pitino has said.
At the United Center this weekend, I asked players, coaches and media members for their thoughts on the relevance of conference tournaments.
Michigan coach John Beilein had good things to say about the Big Ten tournament: "I think it will grow, it will continue to get bigger and bigger, and our kids are excited. They get to spend a couple of days in a great city like this; it's really exciting."
Nebraska guard Ray Gallegos also supports the Big Ten tournament: "This tournament is a great opportunity to show that we can win because of the exposure."
Ohio State guard LaQuinton Ross strongly supports the tournament: "We love them, the Big Ten Conference is so strong. Whenever you get a chance to play against conference opponents, you gotta turn your jets on. It's always good to play against the Michigan States and Wisconsins of the world."
CBS analyst Clark Kellogg spoke fondly of these events as well: "I think they're an awful lot of fun, they're enjoyable. By in large, I enjoy them. It gives players the opportunity to compete at a high level and it gives the fans a chance to enjoy the tournament atmosphere."
Illinois forward Sam McClaurin had mixed feelings: "I think our body of work speaks for itself. I think we're one of the top 68 teams in the country. Sure winning this tournament could have helped us, but we had a good enough season to get into [the NCAA Tournament]."
Wisconsin forward Ryan Evans said his team doesn't need the Big Ten tournament to prove how good it is: "Regardless, we've proven during the season that we belong in the NCAA tournament. We know that we're here to hold up the Big Ten trophy, but it doesn't make or break our season."
Now I offer my two cents. Obviously these tournaments give the winners an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and help the selection committee with seeding.
Beyond that, here are my pros and cons for these events:
National media exposure, especially for the smaller schools.
Exposure to professional scouts.
The chance to play in larger, sometimes NBA-caliber venues.
Economic benefits for the host cities.
A chance for the host cities to shine on a national stage.
Giving players the chance to visit cities they have never visited.
The chance for teams to be a part of basketball history.
The tournaments are sometimes perceived as a money grab for the conferences and schools.
They force players to play three to five games in consecutive days.
The players risk injury by playing so many games in a short time.
Fans often have to travel to see their team play important games.
The way I see it, the pros outweigh the cons. Either way, these events are not going away anytime soon.
Gabe Salgado is a RedEye special contributor.
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