SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Paul Mills isn’t afraid to share his opinion.
The head coach of the Oral Roberts men’s basketball team told a Tulsa, Oklahoma TV Sports Director the Summit League didn’t give his team any favors after 18-0 conference season.
Mills, who earned Summit League men’s coach of the year honors this year, said the new 10-team tournament doesn’t benefit the top seeds because they have to wait to see who their first round opponent will be.
“How do you prepare?” Mills said. “We have to do the same thing that the six seed does. Everybody has to win three games during that time frame.”
The top two seeds in the Summit League Tournament do get the benefit of an extra day of rest by playing Saturday and semifinals are set for Monday. The four through six seeds have to win three games in three days to win the tournament, a feat Mills’ team accomplished in 2021.
Mills, who has been the Golden Eagles’ head coach since April 2017, helped Oral Roberts reach the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2021. He said if there needs to be changes to the 10-team tournament format, he’ll be a leading voice.
This year, the West Coast Conference is giving its top two seeds triple byes into the semifinals of the conference tournament. The 10-team league gives the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds byes into the quarterfinals, while the No. 5 and No. 6 seeds await winners from 8 vs. 9 seeds and 7 vs. 10 seeds.
Advocating for postseason tournament with games at home arenas
Mills said he told the Summit League commissioner he’d like the conference tournament to be like the Atlantic Sun conference tournament.
“It being a one bid league, I have no idea why they do it this way,” Mills said.
Instead of gathering for a neutral site tournament, Mills advocated for higher seeds to host the conference tournament games spread out over 8 days (Friday, Sunday, Wednesday and Saturday before selection Sunday).
“I think all of these arenas, whether you’re in Omaha, whether you’re Denver, whether you’re here, I think all the arenas will sell out knowing the stakes that are involved,” Mills said. “But they’ve chosen to do it this way. It is people in South Dakota. It’s really cold. They pack themselves indoors and they support, usually, their alma mater.”
Mills said someone who hasn’t attended the Summit League Tournament in Sioux Falls could expect “frigid cold, negative 10 degrees so everybody has to go inside.”
“Everybody is either an alum of South Dakota so they’re in red, or South Dakota State so they’re in blue,” Mills said. “You can see it through the television screen, it’s 10,000 people. Very vocal; good group. If you see any other teams playing, it’s probably not a very full arena, but they do show up and support their own.”
Since the Summit League Tournament has moved to Sioux Falls, attendance records have been set and its consistently drawn more than 60,000 people with a record of 65,533 in 2016.
In last year’s 14-game tournament, attendance was 64,725 for eight sessions.
The 2022 men’s sessions recorded 37,190 fans in four days, while the women’s sessions recorded 27,535 fans. Both numbers were the second-highest in the tournament’s history.
The men’s championship, played at 8 p.m. and aired on ESPN2, had an attendance of 10,072, which was the third-highest mark in the league’s history behind 2016 (10,188) and 2018 (11,114).
The women’s championship, played at 1 p.m. and aired on ESPNU, had an attendance of 8,117. It was the third-highest mark behind 2016 (8,647) and 2018 (8,704).
The annual sports event has been in Sioux Falls since 2009 and is under contract to stay in Sioux Falls until 2025.
New commissioner Josh Fenton told KELOLAND News the community of Sioux Falls and surrounding area has done a really good job of supporting the tournament for a long time.
“We’re always excited to kind of get back to this time of the year because we know that that fan support will be there,” Fenton said. “I will tell you it’s a fan-friendly, a family-friendly environment. You’ll see great basketball but you will also be engaged with just a great atmosphere and a great time in the PREMIER center for whatever session you want to attend.”
USD, SDSU coaches comment on new 10-team tournament format
Unlike Mills, South Dakota and South Dakota State coaches saw both advantages and disadvantages of the 10-team tournament format.
“There’s still an advantage to be that first or second seed. If you’re fortunate enough to win on Saturday, which is not going to be easy for anyone, but you get that day of rest on Sunday,” SDSU men’s head coach Eric Henderson said.
The SDSU women are the top-seed, which means they’ll play a team on little rest, though the Jacks won’t know their opponent until Friday afternoon.“I’ve found that it’s different when we’re preparing in practice and how we want to put things together. We’ve had to be thoughtful there I would say,” SDSU women’s head coach Aaron Johnston said. “Absolutely having to go down and play on Friday and then turn around and play on Saturday. There’s certainly disadvantages to that too.”
Both Coyote coaches said it shows the Summit League’s growth.
“There’s a lot of leagues that do it our way, with the same amount of teams, so I think it’s really good. Yeah, I’m excited,” USD men’s head coach Eric Peterson said.
“To include all the teams, it’s cool because you’re still in it and everybody still has that chance and I know it’s going to be competitive,” USD women’s head coach Kayla Karius said.