Friday, September 16, 2005

Conference Cacophony

Conference Cacophony

Majors, mid-majors, low-majors, BCS conference, small conference…these labels get tossed around every college basketball season and no universal agreement has been reached on the meaning of these terms. Big Six-type conferences are accused of having huge advantages through television exposure, access to funds, soft non-conference schedules laden with home games, choice seeds in the NCAA tournament, and other plum benefits. The “little guys” must win their conference tourney, even if they go 24-2 in the regular season and stumble in their conference tourney (see Utah State’s banishment to the NIT in 2004).

For our purposes here at the Bracket Board, I will refrain from referring to conferences in this manner. I will use the term "power conferences," because that one is somewhat accurate. Some conferences have more power than others. That does NOT mean that they play better basketball. The major/mid-major label only perpetuates the idea that only teams from “major” conferences play important or good basketball. There are 31 conferences in Division I basketball. They all play for bids to the same national championship tournament. They all have an avenue to get there (unlike D-IA college football). All of these schools play “major” college basketball.

UW- Milwaukee, Vermont, Bucknell, Holy Cross, Pacific, Gonzaga, Niagara, and Nevada were all good basketball teams in 2004-2005. Teams should be judged on their individual merits without being viewed through the lense of “small conference team.” Of course there are more high-quality teams in the ACC or Big East than there are in the America East or Patriot in any given year. But that does NOT mean that a mid-pack “Big Six-type” team deserves an NCAA tourney bid over a team like Northern Iowa, or vice versa. The 2005 NCAA Selection Committee got it right last year by leaving out Notre Dame and Maryland and including Northern Iowa. They also got it right by including Iowa over Miami-OH. It is all about what each team has done, not the conference in which they play. As Jerry Palm of says, “Teams get bids, not conferences.” Yes, it helps your Strength of Schedule and RPI to play in the Big East or Big XII, but it does not necessarily make you a better team or give you a better NCAA profile than a top team in the Sun Belt or MAC, or vice versa.

Why the Sun Belt lean?
I am an unapologetic Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers fan…TO THE MARROW. I fight my own biases. I hate The ESPN All-Stars. I loathe the SEC. As a converted Kentucky Wildcat fan (I had no choice growing up in rural north-central Kentucky), I maintain a strong hatred of Louisville and now enjoy Kentucky losses. I take glee in Tennessee and Cincinnati defeats. I am a fan. My Toppers compete in the Sun Belt conference, so readers will get a heavy dose of Belt Breakdown. But, I can check my biases at the door when doing bracketology. I will let my track record speak for itself (I had The ESPN All-Stars as a 1-seed and Kentucky and Louisville as 2-seeds in my final projection last year). Just because I do not like a team does not mean they are overrated or that they are not any good, and just because I am a WKU does not mean I will give them special treatment.