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Opinion | Mid-majors belong in the NCAA Tournament
These programs are more than 'Cinderella stories'
It’s March, which means the most important thing going on in the sports world is the NCAA Tournament, March Madness.
The NCAA Tournament is made up of the winners of the 32 Division I conferences, along with 36 at-large teams. These 68 teams make up one of the most entertaining sporting events every year, with fans from all over filling out brackets and tuning in to watch as the field of 68 gets dwindled down to the Final Four.
The NCAA Tournament does not need to be tweaked. It allows for each conference to be represented, as well as still rewarding teams that played harder strength of schedules in tougher conferences during the regular season.
“We use many resources. There are many computer metrics that are considered, as you may have heard we use RPI a lot,” NCAA Selection Committee member and UNC Asheville Athletic Director Janet Cone said. “The things that I like to look at are, who do they play, where do they play and did they win or lose.”
Despite the fact that the committee heavily weights strength of schedule and opponents into the selection process, Fox Sports Radio host Jason Smith believes that mid-major schools, or non-Power Five conference schools, don’t belong in the NCAA Tournament at all.
“Mid-majors should still not be allowed in the NCAA Tournament,” Smith said on his show, “The Jason Smith Show w/ Mike Harmon.” “Mid-majors play a horrendously bad schedule. They play other mid-majors, many teams who are awful. They play a lower level of competition than the Power Five Conferences do.”
Smith advocates for only the Power Five conferences, the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the Southeastern Conference (SEC), the Pacific 12 Conference (PAC-12), the BIG 12 and the BIG 10 to be represented.
The argument that mid-majors would struggle in a Power Five conference is not wrong. Many would. But because they play worse strength of schedules, most of these teams are given much lower seeds.
New Mexico State for example, went 28-5 this season, yet they were awarded a No. 12 seed and played No. 5 Clemson, an ACC team, that went just 23-9. Unlike New Mexico State, Clemson did not win its conference tournament, yet received a much better seed.
The committee factors in the lack of competition by making the road for mid-majors much tougher, forcing them to play multiple higher seeds, despite getting an automatic bid from winning their respective conference.
Meanwhile, Power Five teams are rewarded for exactly what Smith wants them to be rewarded for: playing tougher competition. And while the ACC only has on conference champion, they had eight other teams get at large bids.
In fact, of the 36 at-large bids in the 2018 tournament, 26 of them were from Power Five conferences.
So aren’t these teams being awarded enough for playing tougher competition?
Does a 15-loss Power Five team really deserve the nod over a 28-win conference champion mid-major?
Smith’s new tournament would leave out all mid-majors, as well as the storied Big East from competing on college basketball’s brightest stage. Also, it leaves out other conferences that had teams received at-large bids this year including the American Athletic Conference (AAC) and the Atlantic 10 Conference (A-10).
This year, Villanova and Xavier, two Big East teams, were given No. 1 seeds in their respective regions. Smith’s original model would force these teams to play in another postseason tournament with teams that are far worse than them.
Now, Smith did go back on his comments and say that he would allow the Big East and the AAC into his “Power Five” postseason tournament, but it is still doing every other conference in Division I men’s basketball a disservice.
Mid-major programs, have shown that they are more than just a once-a-year Cinderella story.
Take Wichita State, for example.
The Shockers used to dominant the smaller Missouri Valley Conference, and went to the Final Four as a No. 9 seed in 2013. Since then, Wichita State has earned a No. 1 seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament and has now moved conferences to the AAC, a conference which Smith now considers worthy of making the tournament.
The Shockers aren’t the only example.
The Butler Bulldogs, originally from the Horizon Conference, went to back-to-back national title games before moving to the revamped Big East. The Bulldogs have been a fixture in the tournament since the 2010-11 season, and have become one of the more respected programs in college basketball.
Finally we can look at the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Gonzaga found itself in the national championship game against North Carolina last season.
The Bulldogs play in the West Coast Conference (WCC), yet they have been a constant in the tournament, with 20 appearances, and have won a tournament game for ten consecutive years.
Yet, these teams would’ve never gotten this chance if the NCAA moved to Smith’s model.
This year, Loyola-Chicago out of the Missouri Valley Conference, is making a special run of its own. The Ramblers have worked their way into the Final Four as a No. 11 seed.
To get there, they knocked off the ACC’s Miami, the SEC’s Tennessee, the Mountain West’s Nevada and the Big 12’s Kansas State. All four of those conferences had multiple teams in the tournament, yet Loyola-Chicago was able to not only compete, but win.
There is very little gap between mid-majors and Power Five teams. Sure, Power Five teams play tougher competition during the regular season, but the best mid-major programs prove year after year that they belong.
“Gone are the days of mid-majors feeling inferior to big-name teams,” FoxSports writes. “Now, many mid-major players have previously competed against players in the power conferences at the AAU and high school levels. That gives Mid-Major players confidence and for good reason, because some of them have already had success against stars at elite programs.”
The NCAA Tournament is defined by its parity and the fact that anyone can win on any given day.
This year, we witnessed the first ever No. 16 seed upset a No. 1 seed when University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) took down ACC champion Virginia by 20.
For those who say mid-majors can’t play with Power Five teams, all I ask is you look at this year’s tournament, which has seen college basketball powerhouses like Virginia and Arizona lose by 20-plus points to mid-majors.
Everyone loves a good “Cinderella” story in March, but many of these teams are more than that.
Programs like Butler, Gonzaga and Wichita State had continued success after their original “Cinderella” runs and it has brought them to the forefront of college basketball.
Why take that opportunity away from the rest of the mid-major programs looking to make their own mark?