That’s right, you, Illinois State, and all you MVC coaches and ADs struggling to schedule-up and play the RPI game to make the tourney. And for good measure you too, Dayton… In fact all you Mid Majors!
To say the NCAA lacks credibility would be like saying our Electoral process is broken. It’s pretty obvious, it’s steeped in history, and what’s anyone going to do about it? The NCAA’s primary objectives are to make every red cent they can off ‘amateur’ athletics and protect the sacred cows. They do this well. Look no further than the two prime events, the BCS series and March Madness for your evidence.
The BCS and bowl system, which keeps money in the hands of the big conferences and favors those traditional schools, is indefensible. Find me one college football fan who wouldn’t prefer a play-off (big school administrators notwithstanding). And does the NCAA punish USC or OSU for payoffs to players (see R. Bush and M. Clarrett)? Of course not.
This year’s tourney selections add more cracks to the facade of what is usually considered a fairly egalitarian basketball system. If you weren’t paying attention yesterday, here are some of the telling statistics:
- Number of mid-major teams receiving at-large bids: 6, including South Alabama, St. Joes, Xavier, BYU, Gonzaga, St. Marys. Not the Atlantic 10 would argue with the mid-major label, and so would Gonzaga, so it’s more like three true mid-major at-larges. This continues the downward trend that began a few years ago, after George Mason’s Final Four run and the MVC getting two teams to the Sweet 16.
- Number of at-large 11 and 12 seeds (always the last teams in): 5 Only one mid-major among the 11/12 seed at-larges: St. Joes of the A-10. The other four: 11 seeds, Kansas State and Baylor of the Big 12, Kentucky of the SEC, and 12 seed Villanova of the Big East.
- Top 40 RPI teams getting the shaft: 2, Illinois State (33), Dayton (32). The lowest two RPI teams getting at-large bids are Oregon (58, 18-13) and Kentucky (57, 18-12). Villanova the 12 seed at-large is RPI 51 at 20-12.
What does it all mean? The Redbirds and the Valley really took it this year. It didn’t help that ISU was last seen on National TV getting absolutely spanked by Drake. Still, ISU hasn’t been good in awhile, and you have to believe if the name for that MVC at-large was SIU, Creighton, or even Bradley, they’d be in. Dayton, meaniwhile, is in the A-10, and no way the committee takes four A-10 teams (the same # as for the Big 10 and ACC). The Flyers 8-8 conference record and Temple winning their tournament essentially eliminated Dayton. Still, you mostly heard the ‘experts’ lamenting the exclusion of Arizona State (RPI 83, no chance) and Virginia Tech (RPI 52, the ACC sucks after UNC and Duke).
The Valley has been crowing and lobbying for years now and maybe all those big boys on the committee are just sick of it. The MVC commissioner has been pretty vocal about how they’ve scheduled aggressively to boost their RPI in an effort to increase their bids, how the big boys won’t play them enough. So what does the NCAA do? Two straight years of downplaying the RPI’s value as a selection indicator and citing that famous ‘other criteria’. Two straight years of less bids for Mid Majors.
Part of this has to be the Restructuring of the Big East to include 16 teams. The Big East is on ESPN practically every night–it’s their very own infomercial–and that just has to add up over time. Eight teams from one conference is just too many, especially when you consider just how weak their bottom four to five are (Providence, DePaul, St John’s, USF, Rutgers would all struggle to beat Northwestern and finish sub .500 in the Valley). Part of it is the reverse West Coast bias. The Pac 10 has been whining for about a decade now, and the pendulum has officially swung the other way. But I don’t see much Pac 10 so I’ll be quiet and give Oregon (the Pac 10’s sixth) a pass. I do see enough SEC to know they don’t deserve six, but Georgia went on that run, and Kentucky, who has no business in the dance, is an official NCAA hoops sacred cow. Then you have the Big12, which is quite weak after it’s two power schools. But Kansas State has Mike Beasley, All-American, and Baylor is RPI 43 and a nice story. Finally, there’s the whole TV ratings game, which certainly favors the power conferences. So with three to four major conferences so undeserving of that final slot, with the Big 10 unworthy of their traditional five teams, there was only one thing for the committee to do: go ahead and really screw the little guy. That little guy was Illinois State.
Why do I care? All these teams we’re talking about probably lose the first weekend, right, and I’m no Redbirds fan… Well, I really enjoy the NCAAs, and every year they do this they lose more credibility. Can expansion to 86 or 128 teams be far off? Also, I like the Missouri Valley quite a lot; they play a good brand of basketball and should expect to get 2-3 teams in. Finally, it’s a lot more fun to see a team like ISU upset the big boys than watching Villanova or Kentucky do it.
So who should’ve been out in favor of the Redbirds? Villanova, I’m fine with. Don’t reward the egregiously Big East. Better yet, bounce Kentucky with their low RPI. Don’t penalize someone in another conference because Georgia went on their SEC run.
Hopefully Illinois State or Dayton or some other Mid Major wins the NIT (it would kinda suck if Va. Tech, Arizona State, or Syracuse win it). And we’re always rooting for the upsets in the Big Dance.
As for the NCAA–they get a small shot at redemption this summer when they hand out the penalties for Indiana’s violations. Come down hard on the Hoosiers (yeah, right) and it’s a step in the right direction. Then we can move on to football. Playoffs, anyone?