Thanks to a bizarre decision by the SWAC, there's a good chance the league will produce a tournament champion who is ineligible to receive the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Even though Southern, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Mississippi Valley State and Grambling are each ineligible for this year's postseason due to APR penalties, the SWAC announced Friday that all four teams will be allowed to compete in its league tournament this month. If one of those teams wins the SWAC tournament, the league's automatic NCAA bid would go to the eligible team that advances furthest or to the highest-seeded team should the last remaining eligible teams be eliminated in the same round.
It's not far-fetched to envision the SWAC tournament producing an ineligible champion or for an eligible team to have clinched the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament just by reaching the semifinals. Defending league champion Southern (17-11, 13-2) is 3.5 games ahead of second-place Alabama State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff is tied for fourth in the conference.
It's not unprecedented for a league to allow postseason-ineligible programs to compete in its conference tournament. In 1993, Syracuse was ineligible for the NCAA Tournament but played in the Big East tournament, reaching the title game as a No. 3 seed before falling to top-seeded Seton Hall.
But the decision to allow the four ineligible teams to participate in the SWAC tournament is a reversal from what the league did a year ago. Only seven teams participated in the SWAC tournament last March because three were ineligible for the NCAA tournament due to APR penalties.
To alter that policy this season is a disservice to both the teams who managed to remain academically eligible and to the league as a whole.
It's hard enough for a team from the cash-poor SWAC to win an NCAA tournament game against programs with more resources. Now there's a good chance the representative from the SWAC won't even have the momentum boost of winning the league's tournament the previous week.