Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, the conference tournament that I paid the most attention to was the Mid-American Conference Tournament. In 2000, the decision was made to move the tournament from its previous location at the SeaGate Convention Center in Toledo, Oh to Gund Arena (now named Quicken Loans Arena) in Cleveland. One of the things that blew my mind (both then and now) was how inexpensive it was to attend the games. When I was younger, my father, brother, and I would exchange two boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese for a voucher good for one championship game ticket (It had to be made by Kraft, as they were the official sponsors of the tournament back then). It amazed me that for about three dollars, one could get a ticket to see two teams battle for a bid to the NCAA Tournament (we also got a promotional backpack out of the deal, one of which I think I still have tucked away in a closet at my parent's house). For four years, this meant watching the Kent State Golden Flashes. Their record was 2-2 in those four years, and both years they won, they had success in the NCAA Tournament, including a run to the elite eight in 2002. As far as I know, the Macaroni and Cheese promotion is no more, but when I was young, it really amazed me.
With half of its member schools in Ohio, Cleveland provides a great location for the tournament. Many high school students in the Cleveland area attend one of the schools in the conference, and consequently, there are plenty of alumni in the area. This makes for a pretty good tournament atmosphere. The icing on the cake is when the two Northeast Ohio schools, Kent State and Akron, are playing. These schools are both about an hour (give or take) from "The Q," making it easy for students to attend. The two schools met in the 2007 tournament semi-finals, and the arena was so full that the upper deck had to be opened, something that I had never seen happen in the history of the tournament. The two schools have met in the tournament four times in the last six years, including twice for the championship. The one time I've seen them play in the tournament was during the 2007 semi-finals, during which the arena was so full that the upper deck had to be opened, something that I had only seen during the championship game.
One of the other exciting aspects of the tournament is the factor for upsets. Since 2000, the regular season champion has only won the tournament five times. In 2010, Ohio was the 9th seed, and had to play in to the tournament. This however, did not stop them, and they won four games in a row to take the championship (and followed it up with an upset in the NCAA Tournament over Georgetown). In 2011, the Akron Zips, the fifth seed, also won four games in a row, including two in overtime. The defending champion Ohio, was the three-seed, but they knocked off second-seeded Buffalo, and top-seed Akron to take the title.
An important note to mention when discussing upsets is that the MAC hasn't received an at-large bid since the tournament has been in Cleveland (their last was in 1999, the last year the tournament was in Toledo). As a result, the winner of the tournament receives the conference's only bid. This year, the Zips and Bobcats will be the two top seeds in the tournament, and many are projecting that they will meet for the championship. But given the history of the tournament, I wouldn't be surprised to see one of them go down in the semi-finals (both have a double bye). So if you're looking for some exciting basketball during Championship Fortnight, be sure to check out the MAC Tournament.