I am going to start out by saying the good stuff is after the second bold section. I am sure not putting your good stuff at the end was covered in journalism school, but this is what you get when a former phy ed teacher writes an article. If you have my attention span scroll down.
Every March we hear the complaining as an average high major team makes the NCAA tournament over a mid-major team that lost 1 conference game all season and happened to get upset in their conference tournament. There is then complaining that high majors won’t go on the road to play mid-majors, won’t even schedule the really good mid-major programs. So what is to be done? Appeal to the high majors that changing this is good for the game of college basketball? For the most part, high majors aren’t the teams that need to change. Ultimately we have to understand that there are millions of dollars to be made from each team from your conference that makes the tournament and the high majors for the most part aren’t going to mess with a system that works for them.
So what are mid-majors to do? I am going to use Northern Iowa from the Missouri Valley as my example for much of this article before I propose a multi-team event that started building steam as Greg Stemen, Zack Dosch, and I were talking on the last podcast. Why Northern Iowa? In spite of a net ranking of 48, every indication was, in a tournament that didn’t happen because of Covid, they were going to watch from home.
Non-Conference Schedule (High majors won’t schedule us)
We all know that non-conference scheduling is an inexact science. A team does their best to schedule high-quality opponents but you really don’t know if those opponents are going to be what they are thought to be until the end of the season. The 2019-20 Northern Iowa team that I am going to use as an example for the rest of this article played the following high major opponents in the non-conference. They lost to West Virginia on a neutral court, beat South Carolina on a neutral court, beat Colorado on the road. So not a horrible non-conference schedule, 3 of their 12 non-conference games or 25% were potential quad 1 or 2 victories. The problem is the other 9 games were not going to move the needle if the Panther’s season ended in conference tournament heartbreak. We also know that for the most part, the needle isn’t going to move in mid-major conference play, in fact, your resume almost always gets worse. Along comes the usual complaint that high majors won’t schedule great mid-major teams. Well, guess what that’s probably not going to change. What if mid-major conferences got together and took some control over their own destiny. Agreements that the top preseason teams schedule each other, one team from a conference comes to your arena and you travel to another. If for example the MAC, MVC, Horizon, and Summit had this type of agreement. Each of their top two preseason teams were going to get 4 games (2 at home and 2 away) against opponents from the other 3 conferences. It’s a bit of a guess because teams under and overperform. However, let’s just use the 8 teams who finished 1 or 2 in the net from those conferences. If you beat 7 of those teams on the road, it would have qualified as a quad 2 win. So you win your two road games you add 2 quad 2 wins. If you beat Northern Iowa or Akron on the road it was a quad 1 win. So Northern Iowa going on the road to play Akron was worth just as much as playing West Virginia on a neutral court. All of these teams were worth a quad 3 win at your home court. So adding these 4 games to the Panthers’ schedule greatly changes their strength of schedule and tournament resume. The Panthers would not have been sad to have the games against 2 non D1 teams, a 283 net opponent, and a 338 net opponent replaced by quad 2 and 3 opportunities.
The Multi-Team Event
So as I said above the trick about the non-conference schedule, is a team doesn’t always finish as high as they were anticipated to finish. Adding to that the fact that once a mid-major team starts conference play their net ranking and tournament resume will decrease, it is a situation prime for some problem-solving. I want to give credit where due. The idea of this, specifically the end of the year version came from the brain of Greg Stemen.
So here it is. A multi-team event in between the end of conference play and the conference tournaments. The event would be between the top 2 net teams in the MAC, MVC, Horizon, and Summit. An 8 team tournament that each team is going to play 3 games. Conference play would have to start a week earlier so that it could end a week earlier. The MAC also starts its conference tournament several days after the other 3 conferences so there would need to be aligning of the conference tournaments. If this event had happened last year, Northern Iowa who was 3-2 in quad 2 games, could have potentially scored a quad 3 victory and 2 quad 2 victories with a 3-0 tournament. Suddenly a 5-2 record in quad 2 games for the committee to review. In all honesty, Northern Iowa was the only one of the 8 teams to potentially change their tournament fate in this format. That does not mean that it wouldn’t be beneficial to teams like Akron, North Dakota State, or Northern Kentucky though. According to a bracket put together by 10 top bracketologists, they pegged NDSU and NKU as a 15 seed and Akron as a 13. Could a run in this move them a seed line or two? I think so. Every time your seed is better your chances of winning in the tournament go up. What to do with the lost non-conference games starting conference play a week earlier? Non-Conference Games in February are still non-conference games. So for the teams in the above-mentioned conferences, that did not make this event. The schedulers get together and each team gets a home and away game against competition from the other conferences. No one complains about an unfair advantage or tired legs or being rusty. Every team in the 4 conferences plays at least 2 games that week. Add in the usual break between conference play and the conference tournament and we are set to go.
So let’s just say there doesn’t end up with more teams from these conferences in the tournament, or better seeds in the tournament. What has this end of the regular season multi-team event done? It has showcased 4 midwest-based mid-major conferences and their best teams right at a time the casual fan is starting to tune into college basketball. It has given fans a chance to travel (would assume this event would rotate to 4 locations). It would build revenue for the conferences based on the event itself and the high likelihood the networks would be all over it. It would build relationships between the conferences that will continue to make non-conference scheduling and other partnership easier. It would prepare your best teams for tournament play shortly before the conference tournaments start. Add a traveling trophy that goes to the winner each year and it builds conference pride and rivalries. It would likely be replicated by other mid-major conferences.
It’s time for mid-major conferences to take at least some control of their own destiny. I don’t know how some coordination during non-conference scheduling and especially the end of the year multi-team event doesn’t help these conferences get better seeds in the tournament and eventually more than one team in the tournament. In turn, giving a chance at millions more in revenue to the conferences from additional tournament appearances and a higher chance at tournament victories. Even if that doesn’t happen you have a fantastic end of the year event watched by college basketball fans across the country.