On BracketBusters changes and the MVC

This season will be the last for the BracketBusters Challenge in its current form, ESPN has announced.

ESPN and a number of mid-major conferences have come together since 2003 to create non-conference February matchups through BracketBusters, some of which are televised, to boost teams’ RPI heading into the NCAA tournament.

But a move to change the format has been months in the making once a number of noteworthy programs — the Colonial Athletic Association and newly initiated Atlantic-10 member Virginia Commonwealth in particular — withdrew participation from BracketBusters.

The field also grew too large for most games to carry any postseason implications, forcing teams with sub-.500 records to set up expensive road trips on short notice, all while playing conference schedules.

This season’s BracketBusters games will take place on Feb. 22-23. Matchups for the 122 participating teams will be announced later and, as it has since its beginning, the Missouri Valley Conference is one of 13 leagues involved.

An ESPN statement issued Monday night said, “Our goal is to maintain the BracketBusters brand in some fashion in the future.”

“BracketBusters has been a unique event for 11 years, producing memorable games and moments while generating national exposure for the participating schools and conferences,” the statement said. “Given the evolving college landscape, we felt the event in its present form has run its course. We’ll continue to work with our conference partners to develop new, creative events to further grow the sport.”

Whatever BracketBusters becomes, there should be implications for the MVC, which has a contract with ESPN for each of its 10 teams to participate through 2016.

“Possibly, the BracketBusters event could evolve into something entirely different,” MVC commissioner Doug Elgin said during the league’s media day last October — possibly to an event earlier in the season.

But once BracketBusters stops in its current format, the MVC won’t be compensated by ESPN with other February broadcasts.

“There are no ‘guaranteed’ minimum of exposures with our participation in the event,” wrote Associate Commissioner Mike Kern in an email Tuesday. “The opportunity to ‘play’ our way into additional exposure goes away with the demise of this event.”

If BracketBusters were to disappear completely, it would actually create a two-game hole on teams’ non-conference schedules. For each BracketBusters road trip a team makes, it’s due a return game, such as what Murray State played last Saturday at the Ford Center.

The Aces’ conference is also in the last season of its Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge, another attempt to raise non-conference strength of schedule. But the MVC did ask all of its members to play this season in exempt tournaments, which UE did with the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.

Some national perspective on the end of BracketBusters:

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