Bullies are taking the fun out of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament again this year.
Who are the basketball bullies? They are the six major men’s conferences: the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC); the Big East, the Big Ten, the Big 12, the Pac 12 and the Southeastern Conference. These six groups are grabbing most of the spots in March Madness.
Like a lot of fans, I think the NCAA tournament is at its best when a smaller school surprises a big-name team. Such as last year, when Stephen F. Austin beat West Virginia, 70-56, or when Middle Tennessee State stunned Michigan State, 90-81.
There won’t be many chances for such upsets this year. Just take a look at the bracket for the NCAA men’s tournament.
There are 68 teams in the tournament. The winners of the 32 Division 1 conference championships automatically qualify. Then the NCAA selection committee chooses 36 “at-large” teams.
This year, 32 of the at-large selections went to teams from the six major conferences. The NCAA picked only four teams from the other 26 conferences. The tournament is so loaded with teams from the big conferences that nine of the 15 ACC teams and seven of the 10 Big East teams will be playing at the Big Dance.
It gets worse. Two of the at-large teams from the smaller conferences — Saint Mary’s of California and Virginia Commonwealth University — will play each other in the first round. A third (Dayton) has a super-tough matchup against Wichita State, the champion of the Missouri Valley Conference.
In addition, four of the smaller conference champions had to play each other in games on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. So two of those teams will not even make the final field of 64.
It looks to me as if the NCAA was trying to eliminate as many small-conference teams as possible.
I think the NCAA committee should let in more teams from small conferences. There are some good ones. Akron, Illinois State and Monmouth each won more than 25 games this season. The College of Charleston, Oakland and Valparaiso also had good records.
I can hear some folks saying that these small schools should be kept out because they don’t have a chance to win the championship. Well, neither do big-conference teams such as Xavier, Vanderbilt and Michigan State. Those teams finished well back in their conferences but nonetheless were included in the tournament.
Maybe it’s time for the small conferences to tell the NCAA and the big-conference bullies to stop pushing them around and play fair. Let more small schools in.
Or maybe the small conferences will take their ball and go home.
Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. His latest basketball book — “Outside Shot” — has just been published.