Monday, March 12, 2007

Mid-Major, Go Home?

The following is co-posted on TNR's March Madness blog, Posting Up:

CBS needs to make up its mind about how it feels about mid-major schools in the NCAA Tournament. CBS paid $6 billion in 1999 to extend its then-current contract with the NCAA to broadcast the tournament for 11 more years, or until 2014.

A year ago, controversy erupted during the Selection Show when CBS color commentator Billy Packer challenged then-Selection Committee chair Craig Littlepage over the inclusion of so many mid-majors, including the Colonial Athletic Association's George Mason University. Packer, who played and coached for Wake Forest of the ACC, cited the poor record of the CAA and the Missouri Valley Conference in the preceding years, in contrast to power teams like Cincinnati and Florida State, that were omitted from the 2006 event. (Packer had previously raised the ire of mid-major fans with his criticism of St. Joseph's #1 seed in 2004.)

Littlepage responded after the show by citing Packer's own admission that he had seen few of the mid-major teams actually play that year, and was relying on past performance. Littlepage remarked, "Facts, instead of opinions, would be helpful." Packer, of course, ended up calling the Final Four games that included George Mason, the lowest-seeded team to make it in twenty years.

This year, CBS turned to facts. About halfway through the Selection Show last night, the following graphic flashed:

Number of Mid-Major At-Large Bids Awarded:

2003 10
2004 12
2005 9
2006 8
2007 6

As CBS commentator Seth Davis noted, the trendline since 2004 is down. More interestingly, Davis commented that the trend was bad for the Tournament, and bad for college basketball, because the Mid-Majors give the tournament its "charm."

There was a theory a year ago that the NCAA, having acquired the rights to the NIT in late 2005, would be tempted to send a power team, with its well-established fan base, to the lesser tournament and keep a few extra mid-majors in the NCAA mix. Despite the protestations of Packer--and to the chagrin of Davis--it appears that the rich keep getting richer in the NCAA tournament.

Or maybe the execs at CBS just believe that "any publicity is good publicity."

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