Monday, March 07, 2011

Bearing Up Under NCAA Injustice: Why the “Tourney System” Sucks

It happened again on Sunday. A regular season conference winner got beat in its league end-of-season tourney, and in so doing all but scuttled its chances for a berth in the NCAA basketball tournament.

Why does this totally suck? Because Missouri State’s 25-8 record should be good enough. Because the fact that the Bears were the regular season champions of the Missouri Valley Conference (15-3 record) should already have been enough to get them into the NCAA tourney. They were their league’s BEST team.

Oh, it’s quaint and all that--for Indiana State (20-13, 12-6) to receive the Big Dance automatic berth by virtue of winning the MVC tournament yesterday. Indiana State is Larry Bird’s alma mater, so there’s that. And no one can diminish the efforts of the Sycamores, who are gutty, scrappy and [insert your own adjective here to describe a mostly white, gym-rat-style college b-ball team]. (If the Sycs advance in the dance, I’ll be surprised, but of course stranger things have happened.)

The Sycs are a nice story, but so are the Bears, who went from last to first in the MVC this year and clearly posted the superior league and overall records. And where is justice--not to mention logic--when Missouri State now has to sweat out the tourney system in order to gain an at-large spot in the NCAAs?

The current scuttlebutt holds that the Bears won’t be selected, with teams from larger, older and more highly regarded leagues already in the hunt for at-large berths. Unfortunate, since the MVC is a good (if under-publicized and -rated) league. In the past they’ve sent teams to the NCAAs who have pulled upsets and made some impressive runs. Schools like Bradley, Northern Iowa, Wichita State, Southern Illinois and others in the 10-team league. Apparently, the 16-team Big East will be sending at least nine teams to the Big Dance. Anyone see the justice here?

Here’s my bugaboo: If the regular season records don’t mean anything, then why bother keeping ‘em? If there’s no reward for posting the best record in your conference--i.e., the automatic league berth in the NCAAs--then what does it matter? Presumably, they give you a trophy--or a banner to hang in your fieldhouse rafters--for winning the league regular season, but where the NCAAs are concerned, why not sit on your ass all year, and just start to hustle in the end-of-season league tourney, since that’s the only thing that counts? (Okay, that’s facetious, but the point still holds: there’s no reward for being good all year long.)

It’s time to change the system. Regular season league winners should get the automatic NCAA berth. After that, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee can use league tourney results to factor into their at-large decision-making along with all the other criteria like RPI, out-of-conference record, road victories, etc.

I really don’t know how or when things got to this bizarre point. But telling teams they aren’t good enough after they’ve proved it all year long? That just seems dumb to me.

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