WAC Tourney Is A Stressful Tossup

March Madness “Selection Sunday” approaches and, for some schools particularly those who’ve lately been featured in ESPN’s “Last Four In, Last Four Out” it’s edge-of-your seat time.

At-large bids determine which of those schools participate in the NCAA tournament and the big payday that come with it. For most Division I schools, it is quite simple: Win your conference tournament or watch the madness on TV.

Of course, some will be selected for the NIT or one of the alphabet soup pay-to-play tournaments, but those are consolation prizes, and ones that are accompanied by sticker shock. Hosting one of these is expensive, roughly $40,000 per game, which provides a nice profit for the tournament owner. Still, coaches want to play in them because it means extra practice time and usually a bonus for making the postseason.

And while these games are better than no games, the Big Dance is the goal.

For one-bid leagues, and the WAC is one of them this year, the conference tournament takes on all the drama of the NCAA tournament.

It is one case where the lesspowerful conference tournaments are way more fun that the BCS conference tournaments. When the Metro Atlantic pits Canisius against Iona, the players are competing while staring into the basketball abyss. You can feel the tension on the court. But when the ACC tournament final matches Duke against North Carolina, it is a mere tuneup for the national tournament. It might affect the seeding by a spot or two, but it will be absent the tears and hand-wringing that accompanies the finals on the lesser rungs.

* Which brings us to this week’s WAC tournament in Las Vegas, in which seven of the teams are given a chance to win it. Only San Jose State would be a huge upset to be crowned the tournament champion. The obvious favorite will be Nevada, but they’ve been beaten at home and had three near misses. For the Wolfpack, along with Hawaii and Fresno State, this is the last go-around in the WAC. Fresno State and Nevada will go to the Mountain West, while UH will play basketball in the Big West next year. Even WAC commissioner Karl Benson is moving on to the Sun Belt. The tournament at the Orleans arena should have a little bit more emotion flowing this year than in the recent past.

* The Rainbow Wahine softball team is off to the best start in its history.

Led by the righty-lefty combo of Stephanie Ricketts and Kaia Parnaby, the Wahine looks like a team that could easily get to the postseason, although the bar is now raised and in their minds a trip back to Oklahoma City and the College World Series is the goal.

All games, including Tuesday’s matchup with nationally ranked Florida State, are free.