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In an effort to boost its national profile and protect its best teams, the Sun Belt Conference announced Monday that it was relocating its men's and women's postseason tournament semifinal and championship games to an NBA arena in New Orleans in 2020 and that the tailend of that season's regular season schedule would set the best men's programs against each other.

The decision was made Monday at the conclusion of the Sun Belt Presidents and Chancellors meeting in Atlanta, bringing to fruition an idea that top officials had been considering for several years.

Sun Belt Conference men’s basketball divisions starting in 2019-2020

West;East

UALR;Appalachian State

Arkansas State;Coastal Carolina

Louisiana-Lafayette;Georgia Southern

Louisiana-Monroe;Georgia State

UT-Arlington;South Alabama

Texas State;Troy

2020 Men’s and Women’s Sun Belt Conference Tournament format

First Round;Opponents;Date

Game 1;No. 10 at No. 7;March 7

Game 2;No. 9 at No. 8;March 7

Played at on-campus sites

Quarterfinals;Opponents;Date

Game 3;Game 1 Winner at No. 6;March 9

Game 4;Game 2 Winner at No. 5;March 9

Game 5;Game 3 Winner at No. 3;March 11

Game 6;Game 4 Winner at No. 4;March 11

Played at on-campus sites

Semifinals;Opponents;Date

Game 7*;Game 5 Winner vs. No. 2;March 14

Game 8*;Game 6 Winner vs. No. 1;March 14

Championships;Opponents;Date

Championship*;Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner;March 15

*Smoothie King Center, New Orleans

"I'm very pleased that our membership has elected to take a step out of the tradition and go down a path that hasn't been done before," said Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson, who said the decision was enacted by an 11-1 vote by member university presidents and chancellors. "The appearance is that we're stuck in the status quo, and we need to get out of it and do something that will give us a better chance of putting our tournament champions or our best teams in the NCAA Tournament."

Benson said all the announced changes will be implemented for five seasons.

Starting in March 2020, the conference's semifinal and championship games will be hosted in the Smoothie King Center, home of the NBA's New Orleans Pelicans.

The 2019 Sun Belt Tournament will remain at the University of New Orleans' Lakefront Arena, where the entire postseason tournament has been played since 2014.

The Sun Belt Tournament will no longer include all 12 conference members. The tournament pool will shrink to 10 teams, with the top two seeds automatically advancing to the semifinals in New Orleans. The quarterfinals will be hosted on campus by the No. 3, No. 4, No. 5 and No. 6 seeds. The first round will be hosted by the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds.

The regular season scheduling format for men's basketball also will change during the 2019-2020 season.

The women's basketball scheduling format will not change.

Currently, each conference member plays every other member in a 20-game schedule.

In the new format, the 12-team conference will be split into two 6-team divisions. Each team will play a 16-game schedule, playing its five division opponents home and away and playing three non-divisional opponents home and away.

After those 16 games, teams will be placed into four "pods" based on the conference standings: Pod A (No. 1, No. 2, No. 3); Pod B (No. 4, No. 5, No. 6); Pod C (No. 7, No. 8, No. 9); and Pod D (No. 10, No. 11, No. 12).

Each team will play its other two pod members once home and once away for its final four games of the regular season.

The new regular season format, Benson said, prevents a top-ranked team from being upset by a team low in the conference standings, which can affect a team's RPI ranking, ultimately making impossible an already small shot at earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

The first-place Louisiana-Lafeyette men's team lost to last-place UALR in the final game of the 2017-2018 regular season, and the Ragin' Cajuns were left out of March Madness after they were eliminated in the Sun Belt semifinals.

Benson said the changes make the final three weeks "meaningful," and the changes can boost attendance in those final regular season games and in the postseason tournament.

Last season's men's and women's championship games had a combined announced attendance of 2,692, and Lakefront Arena's listed capacity is 10,000.

"It's something we talked a lot about: Bringing meaningful basketball games to our fanbase," UALR Athletic Director Chasse Conque said. "They can be a part of March Madness late in the year."

Sports on 06/05/2018

Print Headline: Sun Belt revamps its scheduling, postseason

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