Wednesday, March 14, 2007

NCAA Thoughts

I forced myself to wait three days before putting any comments on the failure of the NCAA Selection Committee to include Syracuse in the tournament this season. After those days of reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s nothing really new I can add that has not already been said by the media and by my fellow Syracuse bloggers.

Simply put, the Syracuse Orangemen should have been in the NCAA tournament. All of college basketball knows it, and the selection committee knows it. I think we had a situation were the selection committee wanted to prove it was smarter than everyone else, and so they went against conventional thinking in order to prove that point. The problem is that the committee isn’t smarter than everyone else; there’s a reason the consensus had Syracuse in, and now the committee has exposed themselves as fools.

I do have some comments about the NCAA Selection process, that this years’ committee did help to illuminate. Many of the following points I’ve mentioned in my blog previously, and for those of you who know me, some of these are positions I’ve had for years.

The Conference Season Should Matter: I’ve long maintained that if a team cannot finish .500 or better in their conference, they should not be allowed in the NCAA tournament, regardless of any other criteria. I don’t care if they were 7-9 in the Big East Conference, and if all sixteen teams in the Big East were better than the remaining 300 teams in college hoops. If you cannot beat half of your competitors in your own conference, you do not deserve to play for the national title. The only exception to this rule is the automatic selection for conference tournament champions.

Use Common Sense: Relating back to the conference seasons, the committee needs to pay attention to the obvious. Forget every other statistic out there and use some common sense. Syracuse finished fifth in the Big East this season, ahead of both Villanova and Marquette. Syracuse was 2-1 against these two teams. Yet you put in two teams that Syracuse had beaten head-to-head and finished ahead of? You know, if a selection looks strange, then it is strange. Don’t go looking for other statistics to justify it.

Mid Major Exclusion: I think the selection committee, heavily comprised of BCS schools, is moving along with the same agenda as the BCS in college football, and that is they want to exclude the mid majors and give more of the action to BCS conferences. They are slowly putting in tools and criteria that will eventually entice the BCS conference schools to only play other BCS conference schools. This will prevent the mid major schools from having an opportunity to prove themselves over the course of the season against quality opponents, and thus, make it easier to exclude mid majors in future selection processes because their ‘body of work’ will fail to meet the requirements of other schools.

How is the committee doing this? They are relying heavily on an RPI formula that penalizes teams for playing other teams with weak schedules. Read that again… its not that they are penalizing teams for playing weak schools; they are penalizing teams for playing other teams (weak or strong) that have weak schedules. The third component of the RPI formula is your opponents’ opponents record. So if you put a mid major on your schedule, you get saddled into your own RPI score, the combined efforts of all the schools in the mid major’s conference. So if you play Holy Cross, no matter if Holy Cross goes 28-0, you also get the net impact of the entire Patriot Conference on your RPI. That can be costly.

I’ve stated before, I think the mid majors deserve to be fairly represented in the NCAA tournament (and in the BCS in football), and it’s a travesty that anyone would try to exclude them or minimize their chances. But we all know money drives the show, and the BCS conferences want all of their schools to be included.

Balance the Selection Committee: If you’re going to have eight major conferences, and represent only six of them on the selection committee, you had better make sure that you have very clearly defined why you excluded schools from the non-represented conferences in favor of schools for those represented. It seems highly coincidental that the three most questionable teams in the tournament (Arkansas, Illinois, Stanford) were represented on the committee, and the five most controversial omissions (Syracuse, West Virginia, Kansas State, Drexel, and Air Force) were not. The selection may have been just, but is sure smells otherwise. And if you’re going to have a committee structured that way, you need to bend over backwards to make sure the end results look good.

Leave Tournament the Size It Is: I’m all for leaving the NCAA tournament at 64 teams (I’d remove the ‘play in’ game; that’s an insult and travesty to those two teams). You’re always going to have schools left out. No matter what number you choose, someone is left out. 64 works well, and it makes earning a bid to the tournament mean something. Otherwise, why not add two rounds to the tournament and go to 256 teams… then virtually everyone would be included. Though, I know this year’s committee would have found a way to exclude Syracuse (no, I’m not bitter).

Big East Is Bloated: I’ve been maintaining for several years now, ever sense the Big East originally expanded to 14 teams, and now 16, that it was too big, and it was going to hurt them long term. The larger a conference gets, the more it will have a representation of all the types of teams in college hoops… meaning very good teams, good teams, mediocre teams, and bad teams. If you have an 8 team conference, it’s quite possible you’ll have 7 or 8 great teams. With sixteen teams that’s not going to ever happen, and so there are going to be low end teams dragging down the conference RPI and SOS.

Plus, it leads to unbalanced scheduling, which is a joke itself. How can Syracuse and West Virginia be in the same basketball conference and never play each other once this season? And it absolutely hurt Syracuse that they had to play dogs UConn and St. Johns twice each, while only getting the opportunity to play Pitt, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Louisville, and Marquette once (in the regular season).

Schedule a Major School Outside the State of New York: This is a note specifically for Syracuse. They’ve become the poster child for a weak out of conference schedule, which is unjustified. Each year, you can easily show that their out of conference schedule is representative of most major college out of conference schedules. The difference is that Syracuse accomplishes a lot of that without ever leaving New York state. Now I’ve ranted and raved several times about the fact that games in Madison Square Garden being 4 ½ hours away from Syracuse, and that fact being ignored frequently by the media. I’ll give you a perspective from Pittsburgh, my current home. Columbus, Ohio is 3 hours from Pittsburgh. Does Ohio State have a huge advantage in Pittsburgh? Washington DC is 4 hours from Pittsburgh. Does Georgetown have a huge advantage in Pittsburgh? New York City is 5 ½ hours from Pittsburgh. Do the Panthers have a huge edge in Madison Square Garden? Of course not.

Does Syracuse have an advantage in Madison Square Garden? Sure… because there are a lot of Syracuse fans in New York City, and Syracuse basketball fans travel well. But you know what, Notre Dame has a very large and supportive alumni base, and they get a nice crowd everywhere they go. Duke has a large national following and they get strong support everywhere they go.

No, the issue really is that Madison Square Garden is in New York state, and it makes is so easy for the national media to constantly say ‘Syracuse doesn’t leave New York state’.

So, Syracuse should identify an area of the country they want to heavily recruit, say Maryland or Virginia, and schedule an annual road game against Maryland, Virginia, Duke, or North Carolina and play them every year. Don’t even make it a home-and-home… just make it their annual road game down south. This will forever remove the ‘Syracuse doesn’t leave New York state’ label and give Syracuse a power conference rival on their schedule. Plus it enhances the recruiting pipeline in that area.

And as we all know from NCAA selection criteria, it doesn’t matter if you beat the good teams on your schedule. You just need to have them on your schedule. If you do the math, you would see that Syracuse’s RPI would be better off if they traveled to Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles and was crushed by UCLA by 30 points, than if they stayed home, and crushed Colgate by 30 points. And don't schedule the mid majors. The committee will only penalize you if you lose to them; there's no advantage to beating them. That's wrong... but that's the reality.

Anyhow, these are the thoughts of a embittered Syracuse fan. Go Orange.


Anonymous said...


Better yet, just move the games that Syracuse plays in the Garden seven miles west to the Meadowlands in New Jersey. Would probably get the same crowd and Syracuse would be able to claim they left the state.


Anonymous said...

Great summary. I think the point about Illinois, Arkansas, and Stanford having representation on the committee is very telling.

On the day of the selections the Washington Post ran a couple of articles on the potential field. Neither one even mentioned Syracuse as one of the bubble teams. I haven't seen other papers but I think the consensus was that the Orange were in. About the only counter to this was what I later heard from Gottlieb on ESPN radio who said he had Syracuse in only because he didn't think the committee would have the nerve to keep them out.