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Opinion | Bring it home
The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament should not be played at a neutral site
This past weekend, the Quinnipiac men’s and women’s basketball played in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Tournament to determine which team would go to the NCAA tournament.
The tournament was played at the Times Union Center in Albany, New York, as it has been for the past four years.
That needs to change.
The Times Union Center’s capacity is about 17,500. Yet, this past weekend, most of those seats remained empty through the championship games on Monday.
Both the men’s and women’s teams of the MAAC played in a virtually empty arena, as very few fans made the trip.
Although Quinnipiac offered a fan bus to interested students, there was still very little support and a lot of empty seats at the women’s basketball championship game on Monday.
There was very little support for any of the teams outside of Siena, who plays its home games during the regular season at the Times Union Center.
Siena was the Quinnipiac men’s basketball team’s first round opponent, and at a tournament that is advertised to be played at a neutral site, this is wildly unfair to give a team a home court advantage.
“(Siena) posed a great second half challenge for us but again just really proud of our guys the way they withstood their run and were able to get it done on the road,” Quinnipiac men’s basketball head coach Baker Dunleavy said postgame. “For us to get a road win in our last true road game of the season was a big deal to us, we took great pride in that.”
Despite being the higher seeded team, the Bobcats didn’t have any home court advantage against the lower seeded Saints.
This is just one part of the problem.
In non-Power Five conferences, it is hard to attract a lot of fans when games are played at a neutral site, because the fan base simply isn’t as strong, and many of the schools are smaller in student body population.
Sure, the ACC, Big East and SEC can sell out regardless the arena they play in, but that’s because their top programs ae consistently competing for national championships.
In the MAAC, only one team is even getting a bid to the NCAA Tournament, never mind contending for the title.
Canisius sophomore guard Isaiah Reese offered his thoughts on the matter via Twitter the next day, after Canisius, a heavily favored No. 2 seed lost to Quinnipiac in the quarterfinals.
“The conference tournament needs to be on campus,” Reese wrote. “Playing in front of 250 people in an arena that fills 17k is pointless. Look at the environment of the Radford/Liberty or Florida Gulf Coast University/Lipscomb games. That atmosphere is love. (This has nothing to do with our loss).”
Reese has a point. Let’s take the Radford vs Liberty game for example.
Those two teams play in the Big South conference, and the conference tournament is not played at a neutral site, but rather at the home arena of the higher seeded team, according to BigSouthSports.com.
Radford, who won on a game winning 3-pointer, played the game on its home court since it was the higher seed, and the arena was packed.
Carlik Jones hit the game winner for Radford.
“It’s one of the greatest feelings ever,” Jones said postgame, according to ESPN.
Being able to play in front of a home crowd, with fans who are truly invested in the team, is more important than playing in a huge arena with no fans.
Also, for these smaller conferences like the MAAC that usually only have one team making the NCAA tournament, sometimes having the games at a neutral site can give lower seeds an advantage.
This year, the semifinals on the men’s featured No. 7 Quinnipiac, No. 6 Fairfield, No. 9 Saint Peter’s and No. 4 Iona. The top three seeds, Rider, Canisius and Niagara all failed to win a game.
Iona won the tournament for the third consecutive year, but it could’ve have been much different had the higher seeds been awarded with a home game for their better records in the regular season.
The MAAC clearly wants to make the conference tournament a big event, but sometimes allowing teams to play closer to their fans is better than sticking players on a big stage with no support.
What Reese said is true, the atmosphere in arenas for other conference tournaments is love, but in the MAAC that is simply not the case.