There’s never been a better time for the CBB Champion’s League

(Photo by Ryan Messier/Paint Touches)

Not this again, you’re muttering to yourself. I get it, I get it. My lonely crusade to “soccerfy” the non-conference portion of the college basketball season has pretty much been met with shrugged shoulders from fans and media alike.

But it’s different now.

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the sporting world on its head, and college basketball in particular is in scramble mode to preserve some semblance of a non-conference season, in the hopes of being able to play the NCAA Tournament next March like usual, and reap the handsome monetary rewards that come with that.

So know it’s not just obscure blogs tossing out bubble ideas, but influential, mainstream outlets and reporters as well.

Andy Bykowski of Cracked Sidewalks had the first fully fledged idea way back in July: 

John Mugar of TBT tossed his very experienced hat into the ring as well in August:

The Athletic went all out in formulating a plan to include every single team in the country around the same time period: 

And most recently, Matt Norlander fleshed out what a bracketed tournament to start the season might look like:

I’m sure there are more I’m missing, but you get the gist of things. In order to get any semblance of normality (and full revenue) for March Madness, you need more than just conference play to be able to measure a team’s “true” rank.

With most arenas still not allowing fans and testing protocols varying wildly by university, playing out the non-con as is just doesn’t seem feasible. Hence all those links up there.

However all of those ideas are missing the connective tissue with the invested sponsors that are already lining up to host bubbles and a true reason for fans outside of diehards to care about any of the games.

Take the Mohegan Sun for example. CBS reporting has indicated the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut has proposed a bubble to incorporate a few existing exempt tournaments, like the Hall-of-Fame Tip-Off that Marquette is scheduled to play in. Not only that, but teams would then have the option to choose a few more opponents that happen to be in other tournaments at the same bubble setting.

So let’s continue with the Marquette example. As it stands, MU would play Rhode Island, and then the winner of Minnesota and UCF at the live event, with an additional campus game against Albany included in the MTE exemption. That Albany game would likely move to the bubble, should this plan come to pass, but not only would Marquette play those 3 pre-scheduled games, they could then select to add a few games from the already existing team pool from other events being held in the same bubble.

So let’s say Marquette cancels all its buy games and UCLA matchup in LA, it could then make those up in the bubble by maybe playing Green Bay, Lehigh and Army (relatively low rated teams that should provide learning experience for a young team) as well as a challenge against Purdue (again) or Michigan. This way, MU gets the most bang for it’s bubble buck in a limited amount of time.

It’s a pretty cool idea, and sources indicate Marquette is indeed looking over the proposal, but the biggest issue I have with it personally is that it still leaves too many variables up to each team. There is no uniform number of games, or quality of opponents, and unlike regular buy games, wouldn’t bring any sort of revenue to the school from attendance or concessions.

This idea works at getting non-conference played in a relatively short amount of time, and that’s about it.

My idea would be to build off some of these existing plans, but unify them across the country so that it builds to a non-conference final tournament where a champion is declared.

In my ideal example, I use the Athletic’s 44 regional bubbles, which already did the work of diminishing travel and excluding conference opponents as much as possible, and make each one of them it’s own round-robin tournament.

Here’s what the Milwaukee pod would look like:

Site: Milwaukee
Arena: Fiserv Forum or Panther Arena
Teams: Bradley, Green Bay, Illinois State, Indiana State, Marquette, Milwaukee, Northwestern, Wisconsin

You can either make it a single elimination tournament, with losers guaranteed at least 2 more games like in Maui, or make it a World Cup style round-robin, where a win gets you 3 points and the team with the most points at the end of the 6 games advances to the final stage. Personally, I like the World Cup style, which ensures the best team has the best chance to win, but I also like Norlander’s idea of making brackets everywhere, since nothing goes better together than cbb and brackets.

So let’s say you do go the bracket route, you can then mimic some of the existing MTEs and play that over the span of 3 or 4 days. You can even get a regional sponsor to help offset some costs as well. If it’s held on a campus, this will be at a time when students have been sent home, so you can offer up a dorm, if necessary, to help defray costs even a bit more.

The Culver’s Invitational would look something like this:

That’s a lot of work for only 3 games, right? Wasn’t the point of this to establish a full non conference season?

Alas, where my idea breaks off from some of the existing ones is that this bubble would be used as a sorting mechanism for the next, more competitive, tier of bubbles. The winners of each of the 44 regional bubbles would then advanced to the final stage, the Champion’s League bubble. The 2nd place teams could move on to the Europa League bubble. The 3-8th place teams would not be included going forward, unless a 3rd place bubble had financial backing.

It’s obviously more work to have 44 teams in one place, so these could be hosted at a bigger site like the Mohegan Sun or Orlando or any of the many locales that have offered up bubble services this offseason. These would also be single elimination brackets, with losers getting to play a few more consolation games that wouldn’t count towards the CBBCL ship, but would be included in their non-conference resume.

Imagine the drama you could see in the regional bubbles, in a semifinal game pitting Northwestern and  Marquette, knowing that a loss would significantly curtail your teams ability to expand it’s resume for the NCAA Tournament. There would be drama in every single non-consolation game.

And then imagine the quality of a Champion’s League tournament pitting 44 teams that have already proven themselves. The bracket would be a little funky, with the top 20 teams getting direct entry into the bracket and teams 21-44 forced into a play-in game, but that would give you  final 32-team single elimination bracket with the best of the best. The winners could receive some sort of financial compensation, or a free bid into the NCAA Tournament, or something else that would make claiming this tournament appealing outside of just the thrill of winning.

Coach K and the ACC wanted an NCAA Tournament where everyone was invited? Well, this is it, and instead of having to renegotiate an existing TV contract with CBS, you have 44 regional tournaments and 2 national tournaments to then sell to the highest bidder.

Made for TV matchups? Check
Bracket Intrigue? Check
Additional TV revenue? Much needed check

If the NCAA doesn’t want to be involved in planning the logistics, there are plenty of willing participants like Rhossi Carron, who runs the U-Sports Group, that was trying to establish a Houston based bubble for 20 teams. Or call up John Mugar, who proved with TBT that he can right a tight, safe, effective bubble tournament and give him the contract to get it done.

While this isn’t a true Champion’s League in that you are rewarding previous performance the following season, it might be even better, in that it ups the stakes for what normally are meaningless November and December match-ups.

There’s not much time left for something like this to get national buy-in, let alone get multiple TV contracts negotiated, but with uncertainty still ruling the day, I figured I had to at least put pen to paper and shoot my shot to write it into existence.

There’s still time to unify college basketball this fall. Nothing would do a better job that CBBCL.

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Categories: Offseason


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