I don’t know if it’s because I’m older, saltier, and more aware of college athlete exploitation, but my once beloved college basketball conference tournament season is now a stark reminder of everything bad about the NCAA. At least when the NCAA tournament starts, everyone is playing for a championship and that’s cool; these games are cash grabs for everyone except the players, whose teams are at the mercy of a selection committee in the most corrupt organization in sports.
And just look at all these goddamned conference tournaments! There are so many! And they all start Tuesday! Except for the ones that already started! And the one that ended Sunday that usually started this week! And some start Wednesday! There are NCAA tournament bids on the line for all these teams! Except for the teams that are already guaranteed to be in the field! Some teams need to win one game to get off the bubble! Or two games! Or three games! Or maybe it is actually two games! Nobody fucking knows!
Oh, look, there's ESPN’s Bracketologist (honestly, fuck this word) Joe Lunardi, the elven grifter who made an entire career out of telling you who he believes would be in the NCAA tournament if it started in August. Like seeing his face every 30 seconds? Well I’ve got good news and bad news and they are the same news: Prepare to have a shit-ton of Joe Lunardi crammed down your stupid throat this week! Trying to watch an ACC quarterfinal game? Tough shit! That game is getting squeezed on the screen so Lunardi can tell you how the outcome of the game may or may not have an impact on the NCAA tournament field! None of it matters! Unless it does!
There’s nothing better than a sports game involving two teams where the stakes aren’t clear! “That win should be enough to get them to the dance!” Hell yeah! A postseason system that exploits cheap labor from student-athletes, diminishes the value of the regular season, and only a group of people locked in a hotel conference room truly know if the game even matters? This is why we love sports!
And if games involving bubble teams aren’t exciting enough, I have more good news: Every team makes a conference tournament these days! Pitt went 0-18 in the ACC and is playing in its conference tournament! OH AND EIGHTEEN! Millennials always catch shit about “participation trophies” but millennials aren’t the ones creating a system where an 0 AND 18 team has to be in a nationally televised tournament game.
Does anyone even know where these conference tournaments take place anymore? Remember when you could flip on your TV and see “GREENSBORO” along the baseline and know it’s the ACC tournament and time to root against Duke? Between teams switching conferences and conferences switching tournament venues, this shit has become harder to follow than Game of Thrones plot lines. Barclays Center may as well be Dorne because nobody cares what happens there.
Wait, shit, the ACC tournament is there this year? Goddamn it! So where’s the dumbass Atlantic 10 tournament? That one is in DC now? But the ACC tournament was just there! How many years until I flip on ESPN to see the Big East tournament is being staged on the moon? “A lot of untapped revenue on the moon,” NCAA president Dick Butts will probably say. “Great for the kids to experience going to outer space.”
I also miss being able to see a game and instantly know which teams are in which conferences. Texas Tech-West Virginia? I want to say it’s either SEC or Big 12. Any team west of Kentucky should just be in the Pac-12. I can barely remember passwords I use for various online bill payments and the NCAA expects me to remember which conference goes with Utah and BYU? I have enough brain capacity for like two more pro expansion teams and that’s it. I can’t relearn every NCAA conference.
I’m old as shit now and as someone who works from home with the freedom to watch as much television as I want during the afternoon, the start of the conference tournaments are a treat. You’re telling me I can flip from The Price Is Right at noon to some game between two programs with more losses than wins at an empty arena nowhere close to either school’s campus? That’s the stuff, baby! Let’s burn out Bill Raftery this week so that he’s asleep in a bowl of oatmeal midway through Sweet 16 games!
When we decided we could create conference tournaments, nobody stopped to consider if we should create conference tournaments. They're bigger scams than college football bowl games. And while I enjoy watching two bad ACC teams struggle to reach 60 points in front of 400 people who thought they were buying tickets to a matinee performance of Frozen On Ice, it does raise the question: Who are these games for?
They’re for rich assholes in suits getting richer off unpaid workers who will be excommunicated from the NCAA if someone buys them spiced lamb and rice off a halal cart outside Madison Square Garden, that’s who.
I used to love college basketball. Big Monday! Super Tuesday! Dickie V screaming about diaper dandies, which sounds less like a way of describing talented freshmen and more like an extremely specific kink. That sweet CBS jingle would be my ringtone if I knew how to do that. I miss those days.
Now my broken brain thinks about how teams in small conferences like Tennessee-Chattahoochee can have an undefeated regular season rendered meaningless because of one loss to Jacksonville Barber College in the quarterfinals of the Alligator Balls Conference. And it’s all because some conference commissioner installed a revenue-generating postseason tournament 10 years ago so he could buy his mistress a sex swing that overlooks an iguana farm. It’s all bullshit.
And it’s all bullshit I will watch all week because I’m garbage. Catch the fever!
This article originally appeared on VICE Sports US.