Maui Sports

Big guys get the gold

March 17, 2009, 6:47 AM HST
* Updated March 31, 2:36 PM
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You may have heard this joke before.  The one about the Golden Rule?  As in, he who has the gold makes the rules.

It was precisely that kind of mindset that resulted in only four schools from smaller conferences receiving bids to the NCAA tournament.  Or, to put it another way, 30 of the 34 at-large bids went to programs from the six largest conferences.

That continued a trend that has seen the number of mid-major schools receiving invitations to the Big Dance dwindle since the high-water mark earlier this decade. Mid-majors earned 10 at-large bids in 2003 and 12 in 2004. Since then, the number had fallen to nine, six and six before Sunday.

The selection committee chairman said, “We look at teams, not a conference.”

Really?   It sure doesn’t seem that way.  Not when 21 of the selected teams – seven each from the Big East, ACC and Big Ten – came from just three conferences.  The Pac-10 and Big 12 were not far behind with six bids each.  Only the SEC lagged, with three bids.

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Xavier and Dayton from the Atlantic 10, Butler from the Horizon and Brigham Young from the Mountain West were the only mid-major schools to receive at-large bids.

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Meantime, Saint Mary’s (West Coast), Creighton (Missouri Valley) and San Diego State (Mountain West) were among those left on the outside.

Here’s how badly things are stacked against smaller conferences:  It’s a good thing Utah State beat Nevada 72-62 for the WAC tournament title, improving its season record to 30-4.   Had the Aggies come up short, they probably would have been relegated to the NIT despite a 29-win season.

Think that’s an over-statement?  Remember that just a few years ago Utah State was left out of the dance despite being ranked among the nation’s Top 25 teams.

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So when you are trying to figure out who the NCAA bid process really works, just remember the Golden Rule.

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