Sports column: Adding excitement to the Patriot League Tournament

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A tightly packed Patriot League conference concluded its men’s basketball tournament Wednesday, determining which school would earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament, with Lafayette College succeeding over American University.

Noah Michel, B&W Staff

Noah Michel, B&W Staff

These tournaments tend to generate interest from students enrolled in Patriot League schools. After the regular season concluded for Lehigh and the other schools Feb. 28, the tournament was the talk around campuses everywhere.

However, there is still much that can be done to add some excitement to the Patriot League tournament.

For the event to take the next step, it may be worth exploring the idea of changing the format so that games move from campus arenas to one neutral site.

Having games that are accessible to as many fans as possible, while having a more certain location, could improve attendance at games. Other conferences tend to pick one host city for their conference tournaments before the season starts. That way, teams will know where they can expect to be traveling in March.

This would improve the quality and profile of a Patriot League that has mainly small arenas. The largest one is Lehigh’s Stabler Arena, which seats 6,000 people. However, it could be a good idea to explore moving the tournament to a multipurpose building in a larger city that seats more people as a way to showcase Patriot League basketball.

One excellent example of such arena would be the PPL Center in Allentown, which seats 8,000 people. It is in a central location, since teams in the league come from as far north as Boston and as far south as Washington, D.C. It also is an arena that has created an exciting atmosphere in the past, as evidenced by the season opener for Lehigh on Nov. 14 against the Villanova University Wildcats, a No. 1 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Moving the tournament to the PPL Center, or a similar arena in a place that makes geographical sense, could make the event much bigger than it already is. The event can be promoted on Patriot League campuses as a place where teams come together and play all of the games in a single round under the same roof in one day. Having one central location can also improve the chances of accessibility for fans of all teams, and there would surely be some interesting fan interactions from students with tickets staying at nearby hotels. Conferences that have one location for their tournament often see that tournaments turn into weekend destinations for students, which would be a great experience.

However, there are definitely drawbacks. Currently, the Patriot League has a tournament where there are three days between games. To keep teams in one city for potentially a week would not work. So for the Patriot League, it could likely be a scenario where the four rounds are Thursday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday. This would have the drawback of making it difficult for student athletes to attend classes.

Some coaches also agree that moving the tournament can be harmful because it eliminates the home-field advantage. Lehigh coach Brett Reed is among those who mentioned that it is seen as a huge reward to finish as highly as possible in the conference to earn the right to play games on the home field.

“A lot of other leagues may go to a neutral site,” he said. “And the teams that do better in the regular season may have an advantageous seeding as far as matchups. But few leagues actually have it affect home-court throughout the entire tournament schedule.”

He also said that the current format effectively makes the regular season and final spot in the standings very important, adding to the competitiveness of earlier games.

However, from a promoting standpoint, there are clear advantages to making the Patriot League tournament one that takes place at a neutral site.

If a change is ever made, it is clear that several kinks will need to be worked out. However, there should at least be some discussion.

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