Does Women’s college basketball even want the Mid Majors? It’s bad enough most Power 5 programs won’t schedule the good ones, even at home, even if the smaller school can bus to the game.
It’s bad enough that because of the 15 scholarship rule (vs. 13 for the men) that more than one hundred players don’t matriculate down from the Power 5 schools to the lower tiers.
It’s also bad enough that the media, which seemingly always loves the “little engine that could” type of story, whether it is intentional or merely an unintended consequence, continues to ignore or go out of their way to keep an entire class of programs down.
In the men’s game, Mid Majors have many of the same issues- problems scheduling, lack of TV exposure and analytics that work against their inclusion in the NCAA Tournament.
However, none of their problems are to the degree that they exist in the women’s game.
Do you know how many Mid Major programs have received at-large berths in the last 3 NCAA Women’s Tournaments? Four. Not four per year, four total!
Meanwhile, there have been eleven Power 5 schools with less than 20 wins that have received at-large bids to the last 3 NCAA Tournaments — 11.
Clearly, some of those eleven teams deserved inclusion. In fact, in the first round of the last 3 NCAA tournaments, those Power 5 at-large teams with 19 or fewer wins went 7-4. However, a closer inspection reveals something else.
If you get a 10 or an 11 seed to the NCAA Tournament, then your spot was somewhere from tenuous to very tenuous. You are on one of those ESPN Bracketology Charlie Creme lists of “last 4 in” or “next 4 in.”
The bigger schools, who have all the advantages, get the benefit of the doubt come Selection Monday and do not outperform the Mid Majors on the rare occasions they get invited to the party.
The Power 5 programs that received at-large bids as 10 or 11 seeds won 2 games in the last 3 NCAA Tournaments. The Mid Majors with fewer teams and the same seeding also won 2 games.
Surprisingly, after Gonzaga made it to the Sweet 16 in 2015 and Dayton the Elite 8 (the Flyers may not technically be a mid-major but the A-10 is far from a Power 5 conference), you would have thought the smaller schools would have received more at-large spots.
While the committee did throw Princeton (2016) and Northern Iowa (2017) a bone the last two years- the doors remain largely shut to the schools who are already swimming upstream.
This year only one mid-major program is apparently worth paying attention to — Green Bay. The favorites in the Horizon have had an RPI as high as #4 (currently #12) and have consistently been ranked in the Top 25 (this week 23rd in AP, 22nd in USA Today). The irony is that according to the Mid Major polls (ESPN and CollegeInsider.com) Green Bay is not even the #1 mid-major team in the country. FGCU is.
Where are the Eagles in the polls? Nowhere to be found according to the Associated Press. A measly three votes in the USA Today Coaches poll. FGCU less than two weeks ago was about to begin conference play (ASun) with an impressive RPI of 17. Three wins by a whopping 97 points later and the Eagles RPI has dropped to 40. Yes, Forty!
If they do any more winning, they’ll end up in the WNIT!
My hope with this at times tongue-in-cheek, and at other times pounding the table to make a point piece is merely this: Women’s college basketball needs, but more importantly, deserves to grow. The Mid Majors are trying like hell to do so, but the sport is not acknowledging it. The media needs to look around to what is going on.
I challenge anyone to download and watch the FGCU vs. South Dakota State game from Dec 29th. Go watch two of the three best mid-major programs in the country go at it and realize that the one (South Dakota State) is “on the bubble” according to Charlie Creme and FGCU is only seeded one spot higher.
It’s mid January and despite FGCU beating two ranked teams and posting a 2-1 record vs. RPI Top 50, and the Jackrabbits losing to #2 Louisville by a mere 4 points- while beating the likes of Oklahoma, NC State and George Washington and having a current RPI of 38, BOTH programs status in the NCAA Tournament (according to Charlie Creme’s bracketology is somewhere between tenuous and very tenuous.
This is a joke, right?
There are not 32 teams in the country better than FGCU and South Dakota State never mind 32 at-large teams better than them.
It’s time for everyone in the sport to either wake up to a growing truth or have the guts to finally speak it.
Clearly 2-3 more mid-major programs deserve at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament every year that are getting them now. Clearly the Mercer’s, Belmont’s, Louisiana’s and Ball State’s of the country deserve more respect this year than they’ve been given.
Currently, none of them have much of a shot of an at-large bid when if you look at some of their wins and watch them play, you know they are every bit as worthy as that 8th place Power 5 program that is going to have a 17-14 or 18-13 record come Selection Monday.
I am writing about the Mid Major problem now so that at the very least, if one of the top programs this year happens to get upset in their conference tournament (a la FGCU in 2016 for example) that the powers-that-be are of the mindset to give them an NCAA bid.
They deserve it, and the sport needs to get out of it’s rut of a mindset and acknowledge what is going on away from the Power 5 conferences.
I’ll make a deal with the NCAA Tournament selection committee. For the next two years, when in doubt between a major and a mid-major, you give the bid to the little guy (so to speak). Grow the game while righting some past wrongs.
You won’t regret it.
David Moulton is a freelance writer who hosts shows on ESPNU Radio on SiriusXM and does college basketball play-by-play on ESPN 3.