The Lonely Centrist

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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?

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