An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed Texas Southern as one of the ineligible teams for the men's tournament instead of Arkansas Pine-Bluff. This error has been corrected.
The calendar has flipped to March, which means the season of college basketball madness is here. But, before the Big Dance starts, some mini-madness needs to be settled in the form of men's basketball conference tournaments.
A few men's basketball conference tournaments have already started, but the majority of them won't begin until next week, including the SWAC Men's Basketball Tournament in Houston, Texas.
The SWAC Men's Basketball Tournament begins March 11 and ends March 15. Both the men's and women's tournaments will be held in the Toyota Center, with games alternating between women's and men's games every day.
Of all the small conference tournaments, the SWAC is the most likely to receive buzz nationally. On March 1, the conference received approval from the NCAA Division I Men's and Women's Basketball Committees to amend its automatic qualification policy by-laws to allow in teams previously banned from participating in the postseason tournament.
The new rule change, which the SWAC's 10 presidents and chancellors voted on, allows four previously banned teams to take part in the men's tournament. The vote was 8-2 in favor of the rule change, with Jackson State's President Carolyn Meyers and Alabama State's President Gwendolyn Boyd voting against it.
SWAC Commissioner Duer Sharp was the driving force behind the proposed rule change.
"It is the conference's goal to ensure that each student-athlete has equal opportunity for academic and athletic success," Sharp said "The Conference and Council of Presidents acknowledge the financial strain that affects our member institutions in meeting APR (Academic Progress Rate) requirements. With the approval of the amended policy, the SWAC not only can provide a quality athletic experience, but optimistically provide the means for academic advancements."
The rule change means that regular season champion Southern University—along with Arkansas Pine-Bluff, Grambling State and Mississippi Valley State—are eligible to take part in the conference. These four teams were banned from taking part of the conference tournament due to low APR performance.
Here is the rub with the rule change: The four teams that are now eligible to take part in the SWAC Tournament are still banned from the NCAA Tournament. Southern University and Texas Southern are currently in the top three of the conference.
The NCAA decided that if one of the ineligible teams reached the tournament title game against an eligible team, no matter which team won, the eligible team would receive the conference's automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament. If two ineligible teams reached the conference title game, then the last eligible team that was eliminated would claim the automatic bid. If the last two eligible teams went out in the same round, then the team with the higher seed in the conference tournament would get the automatic bid. With these changes, some viewers might need a flowchart to figure out who gets the bid for the NCAA Tournament before the SWAC Tournament ends.
The new rule change will affect all SWAC championship sports, including the SWAC Football Championship next season.
"The academic success of the student-athletes is a top priority of the Southwestern Athletic Conference and its member institutions," Sharp said. "While staying committed to improving the APR scores of our member institutions, the SWAC will continue to work with each institution and the NCAA to reach the appropriate benchmarks set by the Committee on Academic Performance."