The Lonely Centrist

A place for reasoned debate about the issues of the day.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

First Round Summary

First Round Summary for the NCAA Tournament:

Big 6 ("BCS") conferences: 24-10
Mid Majors: 7-9
Division I-AA: 1-14

See this post for the difference between true "Mid-Majors" and "Division I-AA" teams.

Congrats to Winthrop for winning the first ever game for the Big South in 16 tries.

Democrats: Just Say No to Fox... and Colbert... and who else?

Rahm Emmanuel is advising congressional Democrats not to appear on Steve Colbert's satirical "Colbert Report" on Comedy Central. One can understand the desire not to appear on "Colbert" in a "gotcha" politics world, but really, do we want it known that Democrats are either afraid or too dull to appear on Colbert?

This comes on the heels of some whining by Representative Maurice Hinchey and other Democrats that Sunday talk shows are booking more conservative guests than liberal ones (they base this on a rather murky study by the liberal group Media Matters). This appears to be part of the liberal move to reimpose the so-called "fairness doctrine" on broadcasters, under which presidential administrations harassed their political opponents (see page 12) and the airwaves were largely free of interesting public affairs programming.

The whole idea that we would need a "fairness doctrine" because of the "scarcity" of the airwaves, in an era of cable and satellite television and radio, is laughable. One can roust up literally dozens if not hundreds of channels featuring almost every viewpoint imaginable, and that's before we get to webcasts and the like.

Finally, Democrats recently cancelled a presidential debate because it was set to air on Fox News. Harry Reid offered up the transparently ridiculous excuse that he was upset by comments made by Fox News Chief Roger Ailes (transparently ridiculous because the allegedly offending comment was a joke about President Bush being too dumb or ill-informed to know the difference between Osama Bin Laden or Barack Obama). The real reason was a crazed reaction from the Democratic left.

This seems remarkably bone-headed. If Democrats think that Fox tilts right (it does), the answer is, "grow up." For years Republicans have done interviews and debates on CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS. The rage that the left wing feels about a the very existence of a single conservative-leaning network is difficult for rational people to grasp. It would seem to demonstrate an enormous insecurity, a deep-rooted intolerance for opposition, general paranoia, an inability to look at the world rationally, or some combination of the four. I hate to go into pop psychology, but its hard to explain in any other way. In any case, though, it really seems bone-headed because Democrats should not stop appearing on the most conservative - and importantly, most watched - cable network (especially in a debate featuring only Democrats). There is a growing, and in my view unhealthy trend, to only be willing to listen to news and opinion we think we want to hear. To have the leadership of a major party playing into that insular thinking is a mistake.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

More Evidence for a Mid-Major split

Following up on the posts of the last couple days, today's First round NCAA action provides further evidence of the benefits to split NCAA basketball into divisions I and I-AA.

Seven of the 15 teams from the conferences I would split off into I-AA (Southern, Ohio Valley, MEAC, SWAC, SLC, NEC, Patriot, America East, Big South, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, MAAC, MCC, Sunbelt, and Ivy) were action today, and they went 0-7, losing by an average of 20 points. All seven lost by double digits, and only Davidson, a valient 82-70 loser to Maryland, was in the game at any point in the last ten minutes.

On the other hand, the other Mid-Major conferences that I would leave in I-A (Atlantic 10, Mountain West, WAC, Horizon, MAC, West Coast, Big West, Missouri Valley, Conference USA, Colonial) went 3-5 on the day, including VCU's exciting win over Duke. The point I'm making is that it is pretty easy to draw the line separating the proposed divisions.

And this tournament would be better if we had Kansas State, Drexel, Akron, Syracuse, Florida State, West Virginia, and Bradley in the tourney than today's 7 stiffs (with due apologies to Davidson!).

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

More Thoughts on the NCAA Tournament and Mid-Majors

In yesterday's lengthy post, I argued that the NCAA - and "true" mid-majors such as Missouri Valley, WAC and Mountain West teams, would benefit if the NCAA either split into two basketball divisions, or alternatively abolished at automatic bids (the former being the better option.) I also argued that a split into two divisions would, in the long run, help the "low majors" in conferences such as the SWAC, MEAC, and SLC. In doing this, I listed the record of these "low major" conferences in the the NCAA tournament over the past 10 years, and since the tournament went to 64 teams in 1985. Of the 15 conferences I would drop to I-AA status, none have been better than 2-10 in tournament play over the last 10 years, and five of them are 0-10. Since 1985, none is better than 3-22, except for the Sunbelt and Mid-Continent, both of which have records improved by wins in the 1980s from teams long departed for better pastures. Just for comparison, here are the records in NCAA tourney play for other mid-major conferences:

Atlantic 10:
1997-2006: 24-30
1985-2006: 59-60

Big West:
1997-2006: 3-11
1985-2006: 28-28
The Big West’s longer term record is a bit misleading, as UNLV went 21-6 in NCAA tournament play from 1985 through 1991. Another traditional conference power, New Mexico State, also left the conference a few years back. Still, the league is demonstrably better than the 15 conferences profiled in yesterday’s post.

1997-2006: 6-11
1985-2006: 14-24
The Colonial’s 1985-2006 record is helped along by a combined 8 wins from Richmond, now in the Atlantic 10, and David Robinson-led Navy squads in the 1980s. Still, take those two clubs out and its post-1984 record of 6-16 still easily surpasses the lesser conferences. Of course, four of those wins came last year from George Mason. But the conference is regularly competitive in tournament games. For example, North Carolina-Wilmington lost last year to George Washington in overtime; VCU lost to Wake Forest by a point in 2004; UNC Wilmington lost to eventual champ Maryland by 2 in 2003; George Mason lost to Maryland by 3 in 2001. Other than Mason’s loss to Florida in the National Semi-finals last year, the conference has not taken a double digit loss in NCAA play since 2000.

Conference USA:
1997-2006: 34-36
1985-2006: 40-40
For a decade Conference USA was just a notch behind the Big 6 “Bowl Champion Series” conferences, then the Big East stole all its best teams last year. Nevertheless, teams still in the conference have a combined 7-7 record in tournament play in the last decade, plus an additional 7-11 by teams now in Conference USA but then representing other leagues.

1997-2006: 8-13
1985-2006: 17-29

Mid-American (“MAC”)
1997-2006: 8-12
1985-2006: 15-27
Kent State made the Elite 8 in 2002.

Missouri Valley:
1997-2006: 13-22
1985-2006: 20-42
2007 marks the 10th consecutive season, and 13th in the last 14, that the MVC has been a multiple bid league.

Mountain West:
2000-2006: 5-16
I was surprised by how poorly the Mountain West has done in the tournament since it was formed out of the WAC in 2000. But remember, Utah made the Final Four in 1998 as a WAC member.

West Coast Conference:
1997-2006: 13-14
1985-2006: 19-30
Gonzaga’s 12-8 record in the Tournament since 1999 has fueled the WCC’s numbers since 1997, but the league has multiple bids in four of the last six years, plus a win from Santa Clara in 1996. And going further back, don’t forget Loyola Marymount’s Elite 8 appearance in 1990.

1997-2006: 23-23
1985-2006: 41-52
Except for 2003, the WAC has been a multi-bid league every year since the Tournament went to 64 teams in 1985. Since the Mountain West split off in 2000, the conference record is 9-13.

I think this data, combined with yesterday's for the 15 minor Division I conferences, shows further that you can draw a pretty clear line between the top mid-majors listed above and the bottom 15 Division I conferences. If this were done, there would have to be some criteria, as with football, for weeding schools out of Division I and into I-AA. Undoubtedly some strong teams from the I-AA conferences might try to move up – one could even envision a league forming in northeast around some of the stronger programs from the newly designated I-AA leagues, such as Holy Cross, Bucknell, Manhattan, perhaps Niagara and Vermont or something. A few schools might be pushed out of the bigger conferences into I-AA – perhaps schools such as William & Mary or Towson State from the Colonial, or Cal-Riverside from the Big West. But teams are switching conferences all the time these days.

What do you think?

Monday, March 12, 2007

It's NCAA Tourney Time!: How to Keep Mid-Majors from Getting the Shaft: Eliminating Automatic Bids for Low Mid-Majors

The Centerman emerges from hibernation for the event of the year...

It’s NCAA Tournament Time, March Madness blah blah etc etc. Don’t take that the wrong way – I love March, I love college basketball, I love the tournament. But hasn’t everything been said that can be said?

Well, maybe not. At least here’s something I’m not hearing. Major college basketball needs to split into two divisions, as major college football did a generation ago. There are now 336 schools claiming to play Division I college basketball. Among many others, these include schools such as New Jersey Tech, Longwood, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and some place that goes only by the mysterious initials IUPUI.

Fans of true mid-majors such as Air Force, Drexel, Appalachian State, and Utah State, and Akron are bummed that their teams weren’t chosen, and note that this year there were only six “mid-major” at large picks, a low number in a declining trend. They blame the big conferences for trying to squeeze out the middies. Meanwhile, fans of “high-majors” such as Syracuse, West Virginia, and Kansas State are furious, and throw the blame on a handful of teams that got in – Arkansas, Xavier, and Illinois mainly. But the real reason the for both groups disappointments is that the Tournament – admittedly the most perfect sporting event in the world, is simply awarding too many automatic bids. It is time to cut Division I basketball in two.

Right now there are 31 Division I basketball conferences. Let me suggest that 15 of these conferences do not deserve that designation. These are: America East; Atlantic Sun; Big Sky; Big South; Ivy; Metro-Atlantic (MAAC); Mid-Continent (MCC); Mid-Eastern Athletic (MEAC); Northeast; Ohio Valley (OVC); Patriot; Southern; Southland; Southwestern (SWAC); and Sunbelt. I’m not saying that absolutely every team in every one of these conferences should be dropped from Division I, or that every team in the other 16 conferences necessarily deserves to stay. There may be some re-alignments necessary, as, for example, the best teams in the Patriot, Holy Cross (which also has a deep basketball tradition) and Bucknell find new homes to stay in Division I, while some clubs, such as Drake or Indiana State in the Missouri Valley, or Duquesne in the Atlantic 10, consider a drop to I-AA. But it should be done.

Let’s look at the record of these 15 conferences in NCAA tournament play. I looked at two relevant time periods: the last 10 tournaments (1997-2006); and the period since 1985, when the tournament went to 64 teams. This is, I think, the relevant history. I will note here that I do not give a team a tournament “win” for winning the “play-in” or, as the NCAA prefers, “opening round” game between the last two teams in the field.

Here’s what we find:

America East:
Record: ’97-’06 - 1-10
Record: ’85-’06 – 3-22
Last Win: Vermont, 2005 over Syracuse, 60-57
Last At-large bid: Never
2007 Entry: Albany, (13th seed)
Vermont’s 2005 win over Syracuse ended a string of 8 consecutive tournament losses for this conference. It’s worth noting that the conferences only other victories in NCAA play go to Drexel, now a member of the Colonial Conference, in 1996, and Siena, now a member of the Metro-Atlantic Conference, in 1989. Northeastern, which also left the conference years ago, won a couple tournament games in the early 1980s, before the field grew to 64 teams.

Atlantic Sun:
Record: ’97-’06 – 2-10
Record: ’85-’06 – 3-22
Last Win: Georgia St., 2001 over Wisconsin
Last At Large Bid: 1994 (Charleston)
2007 Entry: Belmont (15th seed)
All three of the Atlantic 10’s NCAA tournament wins have come from teams no longer in the conference: Georgia St in 2001; Charleston in 1994, and Arkansas-Little Rock in 1986. Except for the now departed Charleston, the conference has never received an at-large bid. Belmont is representing the league for the second consecutive season. Last year, also as a #15 seed, they lost to UCLA by 34 in the first round.

Big Sky:
Record: ’97 – ’06 – 2-10
Record: ’85 – ’06 – 3-22
Last Win: Montana 2006, over Nevada
Last At-Large Bid: Never
2007 Entry: Weber State (15th seed)
The Big Sky has been around since the NCAA first began awarding at-large bids to conference teams in the early 1970s, but has never received an at-large bid. The Big Sky has some nice old history in coaches such as Dick Motta and Jud Heathcoat, and Montana did get a win last year, but the truth is, this league just in’t cutting it anymore.

Big South:
Record: ’97 – ’06 – 0-10
Record: ’85 – ’06 – 0-15
Last Win: Never
Last At-Large Bid: Never
2007 Entry: Winthrop (11th seed)
This year’s Winthrop team may have the best chance this league has had yet to win a tournament game. Winthrop is the first Big South team to be seeded above 14th, and 8 of the 15 Big South entries have been seeded 16th. If they can’t do it, you have to ask if they ever can. The all-time average margin of defeat for a Big South team in Tournament play is 20 points, and 5 of the league’s entries have lost by 30 or more points.

Record: ’97 – ’06 – 1-10
Record: ’85 – ’06 – 3-23
Last Win: Princeton, 1998 over UNLV.
Last At-Large Bid: Columbia, 1968
2007 Entry: Penn (14th seed)
People love to talk about how tough the Ivies are to play, but the fact is, they almost always lose. No Ivy has reached the Sweet 16 since Penn crashed the Final Four in 1979. They’ve lost 8 straight tournament games since Princeton managed a #5 seed and a first round win over UNLV in 1998. And at that the league is not as good as its tournament representatives – Penn or Princeton has represented the league every year since 1988, and every year but three since 1962. One hates to stomp on Bill Bradley and all that history, but let’s face it – this is a I-AA conference.

Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference:
Record: ’97 – ’06 – 1-10
Record: ’85 – ’06 – 3-23
Last Win: Manhattan, 2004 over Florida
Last At-Large Bid: Manhattan, 1995
2007 Entry: Niagara (16th seed/play in game)
Other than Manhattan’s first round wins in 1995 and 2004, the only team from this league to win a Tourney game was in 1990, when LaSalle, long since departed for the Atlantic 10, won a first rounder behind Lionel Simmons. I was a bit surprised, actually, by how poorly this league has done.

Mid Continent Conference:
Record: ’97 – ’06 – 2-10
Record: ’85 – ’06 – 7-22
Last Win: Valparaiso, 1998, made Sweet 16.
Last At-Large Bid: Northern Illinois (1991)
2007 Entry: Oral Roberts (14th Seed)
The MCC’s all-time record looks much better than it is. The only team still in the conference to ever win a game is Valparaiso, which reached the Sweet 16 in 1998. Wisconsin-Green Bay and Cleveland State, both in the Horizon Conference for over a decade, won in 1994 and 1986, respectively (with Cleveland State reaching the Sweet 16), and Northern Iowa, and Missouri State, long departed for the Missouri Valley, won games in ’87 and ’90, respectively. The conference’s last five entries have lost by an average of 23.4 points.

Record: ’97 – ’06 – 2-10
Record: ’85 – ’06 – 2-22
Last Win: Hampton, 2001 over Iowa St.
Last At-Large Bid: Never
2007 Entry: Florida A&M (16th seed/play in)
Since Hampton’s 2001 first round win, all five MEAC entries have lost by double digits. The league’s 2-22 record since 1985 is pretty bad, but then, before 1985 the league had never won a game.

Northeast Conference
Record: ’97 – ’06 – 0-10
Record: ’85 – ’06 – 0-22
Last Win: Never
Last At-Large Bid: Never
2007 Entry: Central Connecticut State (16th Seed)
This league has never won a game other than a play-in, with an all-time 0-25 record. Nineteen of 22 entries since 1985 have lost by double-digits, including two losses by more than 40 points.

Ohio Valley Conference
Record: ’97 – ’06 – 0-10
Record: ’85 – ’06 – 3-23
Last Win: Middle Tennessee State 1989, over Florida State.
Last At-Large Bid: Middle Tennessee State, 1987
2007 Entry: Eastern Kentucky (16th seed)
Another grand old conference that no longer cuts it, with 17 consecutive losses in Tournament play. The Conferences best historic program, Western Kentucky, fled long ago.

Record: ’97 – ’06 – 2-10
Record: ’85 – ’06 – 2-15
Last Win: Bucknell, 2006 over Arkansas
Last At-Large Bid: Never
2007 Entry: Holy Cross (13th seed)
Bucknell has won first round games in each of the last two years, the league’s first two wins ever. Holy Cross is a tough team this year. So it’s a bit difficult to relegate this league to I-AA, but behind those two clubs there is no depth at all to this league (Lehigh, Lafayette, American, Army, Navy and Colgate).

Record: ’97 – ’06 – 2-10
Record: ’85 – ’06 – 3-22
Last Win: Chattanooga 1997, Sweet 16
Last At-Large Bid: North Carolina State, 1950
2007 Entry: Davidson (13th seed)
One of the oldest conferences in the nation, and for decades one of the best, the Southern has long been a shadow of the conference that once included every major program south of the Mason-Dixon line – as illustrated by the fact that it’s last at-large bid went to North Carolina State in 1950! The league is not even what it was when Lefty Dreisell prowled the Davidson bench in the late 1960s. The league has just 3 wins since the Tournament went to 64 teams in 1985: two of those belong to Chattanooga in 1997, and the third to East Tennessee State in 1992, but since forced out of the Conference for dropping football. The league actually had an up season this year – Davidson is a tough team, and Appalachian State, in some years, would have merited an at-large bid.

Southland Conference:
Record: ’97 – ’06 – 1-10
Record: ’85 – ’06 – 3-22
Last Win: Northwestern State, 2006 over Iowa
Last At-Large Bid: Louisiana Lafayette 1973
2007 Entry: Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (15th seed)
Last year’s tournament win for Northwestern State was the league’s first since Lousiana Tech, now a member of the WAC, reached the Sweet 16 in 1985. That also broke a string of 16 consecutive double digit losses, nine of them by more than 20 points. The league’s last at-large bid came in 1973, to a school then known as Southwestern Louisiana.

Record: ’97 – ’06 – 0-10
Record: ’85 – ’06 – 1-22
Last Win: Southern, 1993 over Georgia Tech
Last At-Large Bid: Alcorn State 1980
2007 Entry: Jackson State (16th Seed)
This league’s representative has lost three of the last 5 play-in games, and hasn’t been seeded above 16th since 1999, or above 15th since Ben Jobe’s Southern team in 1993, which is also the only league entry to win a non-play in game since Alcorn State beat South Alabama in 1980.

Record: ’97 – ’06 – 0-10
Record: ’85 – ’06 – 11-31
Last Win: Western Kentucky 1995 over Michigan
Last At-Large Bid: Western Kentucky 1994
2007 Entry: North Texas (15th seed)
In the mid-1980s, this was a wonderful up and coming conference, including Old Dominion, Virginia Commonwealth, Western Kentucky, Alabama-Birmingham, Jacksonville, and Charlotte, and coaches such as Gene Bartow, J.D. Barnett, Clem Haskins, and Bob Wenzel. Charlotte, then known as UNC-Charlotte, reached the Final Four in 1977. From 1981 to 1989 the league went 14-18 in the Tourney, and routinely received multiple bids, including 4 bids in 1986. And then the league began to desinigrate. Of the schools mentioned above, only Western Kentucky remains in the conference. The league has lost its last 12 Tournament games, including a 26-point route of South Alabama last year. Western Kentucky needs to find its way into the Missouri Valley or perhaps Conference USA, and the rest of this league should fall to division I-AA.

That’s a record of 16-150 for these 15 conferences over the past 10 years, without a single at-large bid. In short, they are cannon fodder for the top seeds. Moreover, these 15 leagues make up all 5 #16th seeds (including the play-in), all 4 #15 seeds, and two #14 seeds in this year’s tournament. We like to think that it's fun to watch these little teams try to pull off the upset, but generally the games are just snoozers - it is the better mid-majors that pull off the upsets.

Imagine that these 15 conferences did not receive automatic bids, and we went back to a straight 64 team tournament. Who would be out this year, and who might replace them:

1. Florida A&M/Niagara 1. Syracuse
2. Jackson State 2. Drexel
3. Central Connecticut State 3. W. Virginia
4. Eastern Kentucky 4. Kansas State
5. Belmont 5. Appalachian State
6. North Texas 6. Air Force
7. Weber State 7. Missouri State
8. Texas A&M Corpus Cristi 8. Bradley
9. Oral Roberts 9. Michigan
10. Penn 10. Florida State
11. Albany 11. Utah State
12. Holy Cross 12. Holy Cross
13. Davidson 13. Davidson
14. Winthrop 14. Winthrop

Notice I still put in three of these teams as at-large clubs. I think if the at large bids were eliminated, the NCAA would want to give a good deal of attention to those teams that win their conferences and play well, and I would still put Holy Cross, Davidson, and Winthrop in the field, and maybe Albany. But look at those first 11 swaps: which set of teams would you rather see in the tourney? Wouldn’t Florida-Appalachian State be more interesting that Florida-Jackson State? And notice that the mid-majors do quite well, with Drexel, Air Force, Missouri State, and Bradley almost certainly making the field, and possibly Appalachian and Utah State as well.

If we truly split the NCAA into Division I and I-AA, and kept 16 auto bids in I-A, the spots held in the right hand column above by Holy Cross, Davidson, Winthrop and Appalachian would also become open, to schools such as Clemson, Oklahoma State, Hofstra, San Diego State, and Akron. Again, true mid-majors (as opposed to “low majors”) will benefit as much as anyone.

While there would be resistance to being pushed out of Division I and into I-AA, it strikes me as quite possible that the low-majors would benefit from that, too. Notice how interest in the National Invitational Tournament has been growing among hard core fans. The NIT now has a selection show of its own. Picture a 32 team I-AA tournament in place of the NIT. Wouldn’t that draw fan interest? Might that not actually be a better option for teams such as Central Connecticut State, a chance to win 2-3 or more games, rather than get blasted by a #1 and sent home on Thursday afternoon?

Just to get a sense of what it would look like, here might be the 32 teams in such a I-AA tournament, taking all the 15 above conference champs and the other top teams, just in order of this year’s RPI (obviously the Committee would not slavishly follow RPI, but I’m not up to more thorough analysis). I’ve listed them by their seeds:

1. Davidson 27-4 Holy Cross 25-8 Appalachian St. 22-7 Winthrop 24-4
2. Albany 23-9 Tx. A&M-CC 24-6 Bucknell 22-9 Vermont 25-7
3. Penn 21-8 Oral Roberts 22-10 Marist 24-8 Charleston 22-11
4. Belmont 22-9 Sam Houston 18-10 Delaware St. 20-12 E. Tenn. St. 22-9
5. Oakland 18-14 S. Alabama 18-11 E. Kentucky 19-11 Siena 20-12
6. Utah Val. St. 20-7 Niagara 22-11 N. Texas 20-10 Tenn. Tech 18-13
7. Weber St. 17-11 No. Ariz. 16-12 C. Conn. St. 22-11 Sacred Heart 18-14
8. N. Dakota St 20-8 Ark. St. 18-15 Jackson St. 20-13 Florida A&M 18-13

That would be a fun little tournament?

And it would improve the NCAA tournament, making for better first round games, giving more bids to mid-majors with a realistic chance of winning a game, and keepting the excitement of "championship week" conference tournaments.

Dealing with the important issues of the day...

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Most Naive Man in America Strikes Again

The Centerman is stirred from winter hibernation by the fury of the most naive man in the world. One result of campaign finance reform is that political parties are prohibited from fully coordinating their efforts with their own candidates. So, once they hit the limits, they establish independent units within the party to carry on the campaign. The problem, of course, is that because the added party activity must be done independently of the party, and of the campaign, the candidate and party leaders cannot control the result. See here.

This has the country's most naive man blowing steam from his ears.

Meanwhile, Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center adds some naive humor, suggesting that the parites should simply defund their independent units. But this misses the point. Parties have independent units because they want to win elections and support their candidates, and the law hinders them in doing so. Rather than call for parties to stop campaigning, Mr. Ryan should take the obvious step, and call for repeal of the law that limits the ability of parties to coordinate their messages with that of a candidate. After all, with parties no longer able to accept unregulated contributions, it is all regulated money, raised in small, and therefore "non-corrupting" amounts. Few would find "corruption," or even less so its "appearance," when a political party spends regulated, small contributions to coordinate activities with its own candidates.

But for the reform community represented by Messrs. Wertheimer and Ryan, this is the one sine qua non, the inconceivable - that any campaign finance regulation, no matter how harmful, can ever be repealed.

  • The Skeptic
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  • Going to the Matt
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  • Volokh Conspiracy
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