The Heartland Conference basketball tournament received a bit of a makeover this year.
The tournament, March 4-6, will be expanded from four teams to eight and will be held at an off-campus, neutral location for the first time in Heartland Conference history.
Prior to the change, the Heartland Conference was the only conference in the United States that only took four teams to its tournament, which provides representation until national division tournaments, said Athletic Director Vic Trilli.
“Now, the tournament lines up exactly like the regional tournament, with eight men’s teams and eight women’s teams,” Trilli said. “There’s a total of 11 schools in our conference for basketball, only the top eight will make it.”
The tournament, located at the Union Multipurpose Activity Center in Tulsa, Okla., is designed to expand post-season play and strengthen the Heartland Conference, Trilli said.
“We’re trying to become a better conference, like the MIAA or the Lone Star conferences that we’re surrounded by,” Trilli said. “They’re both older and more established conferences than us and so we’re just trying to grow and get better with our league.”
Trilli said he’s been pushing for this change for years.
“It’s the first time it had finally gone through, and I can’t tell you how happy I am,” he said. “The kids are going to love it. The arena seats about 6,000 people, it has video-boards. It’s an awesome venue. It’s all about trying to make the experience better for the student athletes.”
Trilli said it’s not only the environment and atmosphere that make the tournament change more exciting, but also the impact it will have on the conference overall.
“It provides more opportunities for post-season play and that’s great,” he said. “It makes games at the end of the year in conference still mean something. You still have a chance to make it into the tournament.”
This is the first expansion to a conference tournament that Heartland has made, but Trilli said he’s wanting to expand options for other teams such as baseball and softball as well.
“This is a big thing to me, to our conference,” Trilli said. “I’m jacked up about it.”