Simple solution: Expand the NCAAs

Posted: March 12, 2012

IN THE last half-dozen years, Drexel has had two really good basketball teams. In 2007, the Dragons played the NCAA computer game and won against some excellent teams and got their almighty RPI down where the tournament selection committee thinks it should be - and then the Dragons got screwed.

This year, because nobody good would play them, especially at home, their computer numbers weren't good - except for, you know, the numbers that counted: 27 wins, 19 wins in a row, that kind of thing.

And yesterday, they got screwed again.

"The last time, we had a good case," Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said. "We had all the numbers in the last one. Now we don't have the numbers and we have the same result. What do you want us to do?

"I was disappointed last time. Last time, we had a legitimate argument. This time? I think they left a really good team out of the tournament."

All of which leaves one solution:

Expand the tournament. Now.

The absurdity of this has to be apparent to anyone with an ounce of intellectual honesty in their body. College basketball is a great sport, and the NCAA Tournament is a great spectacle, but there are elements of it that are as fixed as professional wrestling. The entire selection process is based upon a mathematical construct - strength of schedule - that is structurally tipped in favor of teams in the BCS conferences.

The charge of the committee is to pick the best 37 at-large teams to fill out the 68-team bracket after all of the automatic bids. But the evolution over the years has been to take the teams that best solve the NCAA's mathematical puzzle - and the undeniable truth is that the teams in the big conferences have built-in advantages over teams in the mid-major conferences, advantages that can only be overcome either by good fortune in scheduling or the ability to convince good teams to schedule you because you really are harmless. Either that or play 25 road games.

Drexel could not do that. As Flint said, mournfully, "I can't get nobody to play me at home."

As long as that is the case, the NCAA has two choices - assuming, of course, that ounce of intellectual honesty. The first choice, if everything is to continue to be based on the computer rankings, is to force the best teams in the best conferences to play two games per year on the road against teams from mid-major conferences.

Forget the Bracket Buster games where mid-majors play mid-majors. Drexel wins tons of those and they don't matter. Instead, put all of the teams from the two-bid conferences in one hat and all of the teams from multi-bid conferences in another hat and start drawing names. The games would have to be at the home of the mid-majors.

It is time to address an inequity that is decades-old. Teams should not be forced either to guess well about who might be decent as they schedule non-conference games or, in the words of the late coach/philosopher Abe Lemons, "to play everybody except Red China on the road."

And if the NCAA is not willing to do that, expand the tournament. Go to 96 teams. Have some real guts and go to 128 teams. Even at that, NCAA basketball would have a lower percentage of teams in its postseason than the NHL and NBA, and pretty much exactly the same percentage as the NFL.

It needs to happen, because the way Drexel has been treated just isn't right.

"There must be a lot of people on the basketball committee that don't know too much about basketball," Flint said, the frustration bubbling over his burst bubble. "They just got to look at what's on their paper."

The committee's selection of Iona made for an interesting bit of controversy. The Gaels had some decent wins - but by the almighty numbers, they were 0-2 against the Top 50 teams in the nation and 5-1 against Nos. 51-100 while Drexel was 1-1 against the Top 50 and 3-2 against Nos. 51-100. If you can see a meaningful difference there, well, knock yourself out. But Drexel was the regular-season champion of a better league, and was in a one-point game in the final 10 seconds of the conference tournament in what was essentially a home game for Virginia Commonwealth. Iona lost in the semis of the MAAC Tournament.

"When I saw Iona, I knew that was it," Flint said. "Iona? I don't want to put a team down, but they didn't even play for their conference championship. When I saw that, I knew we weren't getting in."

The Drexel players watched the show in their locker room. Reporters watched in another part of the building, at the Landmark Americana Grill. In the restaurant, fans cursed the televisions. In the locker room, not so much.

"Everybody was silent," Flint said. "What are you going to say? I've been telling those guys, 'Don't get yourself worked up.' "

Flint added, "Nobody really cried. We didn't stay there long enough to see if anybody had any tears. But I don't want them to have any tears, because we're still playing. I don't want them to cry."

As it turns out, the Dragons will host an NIT game Wednesday night against Central Florida. It is still basketball, and it is still March, and that is good, but it isn't the same thing and everybody knows it. Drexel has become the poster child for the inequity of this sport, and it has left all of them wondering what it will take.

Or, as Bruiser Flint surmised about next year, "We got to win 30 in a row."

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