Summit League Basketball Needs to Grow Up

UNO, DU’s home opponent this Thursday, is a surprising 4-1 in Summit League play (12-7 overall) and looking to qualify for the league tournament and potentially, the NCAA Tournament. It really doesn’t matter, though.

The University of Denver (10-9, 2-4 Summit), a young team sitting at one game above .500, has exceeded early season expectations. Regardless of how the Pios  perform against UNO tomorrow night, it really doesn’t matter.

South Dakota State, an early league favorite, is 14-5 but a lackluster 3-2 in league play and it really doesn’t matter.

The only thing that matters is three days in Sioux Falls, South Dakota (March 5th thru the 8th) when the one and only Summit League March Madness bid will be awarded. This is absolutely ridiculous.

The Summit League, like most conferences, should be playing on a neutral court in either Des Moines, Iowa or Kansas City, Missouri. Both locations are convenient travel destinations for league members, provide lower cost travel, offer more attractive  amenities for visitors, provide more hospitable weather, and are ‘neutral’.

Conference favorite South Dakota State (Brookings, SD) is located just 57 miles from Sioux Falls. The University of South Dakota in Vermillion is an hour drive. If you want to drive from Denver – plan on 638 miles and several days of missed work. Today, a flight to Sioux Falls from Denver costs $400-600 per seat and hotel options and entertainment options are, at best, limited. Last year at this time time, Sioux Falls had lows of -6 and -10 in early March. March is also one of Sioux Falls snowiest months so travel plans are risky.

Many conferences have lengthy travel requirements for members due to their geography – but they make up for it with attractive destinations. The WAC, Mountain West, and PAC 12 play in Las Vegas. The Big Sky? Reno. The Big 12 plays in Kansas City. The Big 10 plays in Chicago – while Northwestern may be located just north of Chicago in Evanston, they have never won the conference and many Big 10 grads live and work in the Windy City.

DU is not the only school that faces this unfair, unattractive disadvantage. Oral Roberts, IUPUI, and Western Illinois have to travel to Sioux Falls, too. How many of their fans will be there to support their teams? The answer to that question is easy.

Recruiting players to 1-bid conferences is difficult enough. Try to tell a recruit  they will be playing for the only conference bid on a hostile court with no fan support. The conference tournament should be an ‘event’ – not an inconvenient, unfair obstacle for fans and players .

The Summit League boasts that their current RPI puts them in the top 10 basketball conferences in the country. If the Summit League truly wants to improve their national profile, they need to offer a neutral court tournament in a more attractive location. The Summit League needs to grow up, or Denver needs to get out.