Archive for March, 2018

March Madness Times Two

March 14, 2018

There should be an NCAA and an ACAA for college basketball and college sports.

by John Furgele (The Divide and Conquer 228)

There used to a time when the NCAA embraced the mid-majors.  Remember when George Mason made the Final Four?  They were one of two teams from that conference (the CAA) to get into the tournament.  The Missouri Valley Conference used to send more than one team and so, too, did the Mid American Conference.  Even the MAAC (Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) got two teams in 1995 when both St. Peter’s and Manhattan made the field. And, to enhance that reward, Manhattan upset Oklahoma in the first round.

Things have changed and there are two reasons why.  Once the NCAA got the $11 billion TV deal, the event changed.  Now, they had to market the big names and big schools.  Directional schools and schools named after people like George Mason, James Madison and William and Mary were no longer going to get a shot.  Why take Davidson and St. Bonaventure when most don’t know what state these schools are in?   Remember the undefeated St. Joseph’s team?  They got a number one seed and Billy Packer screamed about it for days.  In 1979, Indiana State was a one seed.  Today, Loyola went 28-5 and got an 11 seed.  Same conference.  Different times.

Even the NIT is bad.  LSU gets in and a very good Toledo team, with 23 wins is done for the year. It looks better to have LSU and TCU as your NIT champion than it is to have Duquesne or George Washington.

The second factor is football.  Once football took over college sports, the football schools want football teams to be in the basketball tournament.  Are we surprised Alabama is in this year with a terrible 19-15 record?  It’s easy to sell Alabama, not so easy to sell Saint Mary’s.  Why take Middle Tennessee when you can take eight schools from the SEC and nine more from the ACC.  The basketball tournament has become an extension of the football season. In sum, the NCAA basketball tournament is really a football tournament.

Even the mid-majors who do make it, get seeded low or get other teams seeded in the way to make for a difficult path.  When Wichita State went undefeated in 2014, they were seeded first, but the committee seeded Kentucky eighth, knowing that the Wildcats were more than capable of pulling off the “upset.”  And, when Kentucky did just that, those that run the NCAA were happy because it is better to have the brand advancing than the state school named after a city.

I am not sure what can be done.  I throw up my hands every time I hear a panelist say that this mid-major needs to schedule tougher and that the Ionas has to schedule and beat great teams.  But, Duke is never going to play at Marshall and Syracuse is never going to play at St. Bonaventure.  The Big 12—every game is a tough one—but if that conference is so tough then why does Kansas have an Atlanta Brave like stranglehold on it?  A good conference sees different team win it once in a while, but in the Big 12, Kansas wins it every year; yet 7 of the 10 schools make the field.  Once the mid-majors begin conference play, their strength of schedule goes down, the exact opposite of those that play in a Power 5 conference.

Even when St. Bonaventure, Wichita State, St. Joseph’s, Dayton, and Gonzagas of the world make the tournament, they are always given lower seeds because they are not Power 5 schools and they don’t play football.

I am not sure what can be done.  I have been a firm believer that there should be a split in Division I athletics—the Power 5 should form their own alliance—call it the ACAA (American Collegiate Athletic Association) and the rest of the schools should stay in the NCAA.  It would work well for football because it already exists and the NCAA division could be made up of existing Group 5 and FCS schools. In football, East Carolina, Marshall, Central Florida and even Boise State can never win, or even make the College Football Playoff.  Last fall, UCF went 13-0 and at season’s end, was ranked eighth. So, is a break really that far-fetched?  In many ways, it already exists.

In basketball, you could expand the ACAA to include the Big East since that conference gets too many bids as well.  You would then have 75 teams in the ACAA. Both the NCAA and ACAA could have 32-team fields.  CBS and Turner can broadcast the ACAA, while ESPN or Fox can handle the NCAA.

We all know that the chance of this happening is dead on arrival, but should it be?  The problem will be money.  The reason the old 16-team Big East broke up was due to dough.  Because it was a conference, the football schools had to share monies with the basketball-only schools.  That meant Seton Hall got money when Connecticut played in the Fiesta Bowl. The football schools didn’t like that, and the basketball schools felt like what was once a basketball-first league lost sight of its mission.  Thus, the breakup—the American Athletic Conference for the football schools and the Big East for the basketball schools.

America would never embrace two basketball tournaments.  There has been talk of the Group 5 football schools staging its own championship playoffs, but there is reluctance because as popular as college football is, would America support two football tournaments?  If the leaders are hedging on football, then of course, they are hedging on basketball

Once the tournament begins nobody really cares and despite all the complaining, we are usually debating three to five teams each and every year.  Some thought Oklahoma State should have made it over Oklahoma; others thought Notre Dame was more deserving than Syracuse, while a third crew was left wondering how the ninth place team in the Pac 12, Arizona State, made the field over the second place team, USC.  That’s the problem.  There was little talk of Saint Mary’s, Middle Tennessee, and even Old Dominion, a team that went 25-7 in Conference USA and missed out on the NCAA and the NIT.

At the end of the day, football runs the show.  We all know that, even Jim Boeheim knows that and he coaches at a basketball-first school.  As good as SU hoops are, SU football brings in more money.  Branding is important so we get why Alabama, Syracuse and Oklahoma are going to get the benefit of the doubt and the nod over St. Bonaventure, Saint Mary’s and Middle Tennessee, but it could be fairer.  Does the SEC need 8 teams?  Does the ACC need 9?  Does the Big 12 need 7?  The answer is no; if these conferences got 6, 7, and 5, that would leave room for six little guys to make the field, something that for many years, happened.

Is that asking too much?  Apparently, it is.