Published on: 15th March, 2010


Mandel's Musings: MAKE N.I.T. THE TOURNAMENT FOR MID-MAJORS  | read this item

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New York – After watching some of the very best basketball teams in the country over the past five days in New York at the Big East Championship tournament, I must admit to a bit of a change in my approach towards the upcoming NCAA tournament. In a contest whose only purpose is to have the best teams in the sport competing until a national champion is crowned, it’s time for the rules to change.

Instead of allowing schools from low-ranked mid-major conferences to get into the Big Dance, generally as sacrificial lambs from their non-lofty perches at the 16th seeds, let’s see if we can make this tournament much more competitive. Instead of opening round games that end up as 30 point blowouts, the NCAA should develop other types of measurements and requirements for the best 64 teams in the nation to earn the right to play for a national title.

Now, admittedly, there are probably no more than 3-5 schools who can truly feel confident they will still be standing when it comes down to the national quarterfinals later this month but at least, the games themselves in the opening rounds will provide more drama, more potential for upset specials, and greater tension. And, as we all know, these indelible facets to the quality of the games will lead to better tv ratings and more money being paid by sponsors to reach the broader audience.

I love to watch mid-major schools compete at all sports. I particularly appreciate the notion and concept of being a student-athlete who plays for the love of the games and perhaps, some extra work-study money from the university as opposed to full scholarship players who are basically pros by the time they’re competing for a multi-million dollar athletic department whose budget is similar in size and scope to any professional team in most sports. When a kid is quarterbacking a Big 10 school in front of 100,000 paying fans every Saturday, believe me, he’s as responsible for filling up the revenue coffers of his school as any paid athlete.

Other than the increasingly rare upset by a mid-major over a top 100 school, the drama is gone from those 1-16 seeds or 2-14 seeds playing each other. Those guaranteed conference champions from the smaller conferences now have almost zero chance of competing well, let alone winning. For every example of an American University squad holding a 14 point lead over Villanova with 11 minutes to go in an opening round game, there is the more typical blowout scenario that has announcers speaking to the “courage” of the “scrappy” Eagles or Tigers or Bison from the Patriot League.

Why not have those schools ranked by the RPI from number 65 through 130 compete in the N.I.T., or another tournament by a different name, for another kind of title. Let these kids all feel they have a legitimate shot at a championship or at least, at competing on a high level with schools of similar sizes. Let all the universities and colleges who have won most of their games but for lack of strength of schedule, size of conference, limitations of financial benefits available to the power conferences cannot possibly have a chance at winning a game or two go into the post-season with more than a semblance of confidence.

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