Lunardi knocks this one out of the park like Big Mac on 'roids:
[QUOTE]Lunardi’s take on the mid major. Make sure to read the last line.
By JOE LUNARDI
I have, to this point, resisted every call to weigh in on one of the hottest topics of the season. It has been debated on and off for several years, then came to a head a week or so ago when Xavier declined an award for point guard Drew Lavender as the Mid-Major Player of the Week.
So, we ask ourselves yet again, what is a “mid-major” in Division I basketball?
The reason I’ve resisted speaking out on the topic is twofold: (1) The issue has little or no relevance to the NCAA Tournament selection and seeding process; (2) The conversation has seemed to me to be far more political than numerical. In addition, my years at Saint Joseph’s and broadcasting the Atlantic 10 will – fairly or not – be used to refute any positive comments on that side of the argument.
I’ll thus take my usual approach of stripping from the discussion as much politics and emotion as possible. Our own Kyle Whelliston and others have made solid arguments for and against why certain teams and conferences should be labeled high, mid or low major. For Kyle, king of the “Mid-Majority,” the distinction is based upon resources (e.g., How much does a school spend on basketball)?
This distinction is fine as far as it goes (especially since it’s hard for me to imagine that whoever counts such things has ever been to Xavier’s magnificent Cintas Center). To me, the issue isn’t investment as much as it is results and, to a somewhat equal extent, expectations. I can invest as much I want in whatever endeavor I choose, but to what gain? And does that return match my expectations?
To repeat: Our game is a matter of expectations and performance. As such, in Division I men’s basketball, we need to examine who expects what and who ultimately delivers on those expectations. I would argue, in terms of the latter, that there are essentially three groups within the vast national landscape:
• HIGH-MAJOR: Conferences that compete at the highest level and expect multiple NCAA Tournament appearances on an annual basis.
• MID-MAJOR: Conferences that are generally very competitive and who hope for at-large bids in a good year.
• LOW-MAJOR: The annual one-bid conferences, and there is little if anything these leagues can do to alter that reality.
This is the expectation side of the discussion. What about performance? We happen to have tracked such things in my dozen years of Bracketology, with the essential outcomes presented in the accompanying table. This is a 1996-2007 examination of conference rankings (by RPI), sorted by the average number of NCAA bids earned by each of those conferences:
CONFERENCE AVG. RANK, 1996-2007 AVG. NCAA BIDS PER SEASON
SEC 2.58 5.50
Big Ten 3.50 5.50
Big East 4.00 5.42
Big 12 (since 1997) 4.36 5.09
ACC 2.17 4.92
Pac-10 5.58 4.50
Conference USA 8.08 3.42
Atlantic 10 9.33 3.00
Mountain West (since 2000) 8.13 2.25
WAC 9.67 2.25
Missouri Valley 10.25 2.17
West Coast 12.83 1.42
Horizon/MCC 15.00 1.42
Mid-American 12.83 1.17
Colonial 14.08 1.17
Big West 18.00 1.08
Sun Belt 16.75 1.00
Metro-Atlantic 17.33 1.00
America East 20.42 1.00
Big Sky 20.92 1.00
Southern 21.25 1.00
Ohio Valley 22.33 1.00
Ivy League 23.08 1.00
Summit/Mid-Continent 23.83 1.00
Atlantic Sun/TAAC 23.92 1.00
Northeast 24.67 1.00
Patriot League 24.92 1.00
Southland 25.42 1.00
Big South 27.75 1.00
MEAC 29.75 1.00
SWAC 30.67 1.00
There are a handful of additional considerations with respect to this table:
• Conference USA has averaged 1.50 NCAA bids since losing four teams to the Big East and two to the Atlantic 10. I would thus move the A-10 ahead of C-USA in overall evaluation; However, I would continue to label Conference USA as a “high” major based upon the expectations of its members, with the sample size too small to make a lasting determination of its performance.
• The WAC has averaged 1.86 NCAA appearances since the Mountain West split-off. It has never exceeded a second bid in that time and, if one were to consider a downgrade to mid-major status, I would have no problem with that. Eight years is enough for me to say that the WAC’s performance hasn’t matched what I’m sure are annual multi-bid expectations. In addition, the WAC continues to participate in the “Bracket Buster” event (considered a mid-major undertaking).
• The biggest conference shift in this era is the upgrade of the Missouri Valley, in my view, from mid to high major status. The Valley, which led the parade of mid-majors less than a decade ago, has joined the first tier in terms of both expectations and performance.
• With nine straight NCAA appearances, Gonzaga is obviously in a league of its own compared to the balance of the West Coast Conference. The Zags are a high-major in terms of both expectations and performance.
• There are three teams in low-major conferences with both mid-major expectations and performance. Western Kentucky (Sun Belt), Davidson (Southern) and Winthrop (Big South) are the only teams at this level who have competed for at-large bids on multiple occasions.
• I do not “drop” teams who consistently fail to achieve the expectations of their respective conferences (e.g., Northwestern, Oregon State). That is up to the individual leagues to address.
So there you have it, the Division I Gospel According to Joe…
HIGH: SEC, Big Ten, Big East, Big 12, ACC, Pac-10, Atlantic 10, Mountain West, Missouri Valley and Conference USA (for now, potentially excepting Memphis), plus Gonzaga.
MID: WAC, Horizon, Mid-American, Colonial and Big West, plus Western Kentucky, Davidson and Winthrop.
LOW: Everybody else.
Circling back to the original question, what of Xavier and the Atlantic 10? I would argue that, no matter how you slice it, the A-10 is NOT a mid-major conference. Are there “less than major” programs in the league? Absolutely, just as there are perennial non-NCAA programs in other power conferences. Even with that, 11 of its 14 members have been to the tourney within the last decade.
To me, any league receiving multiple NCAA bids on an annual basis belongs in the “major” category. The Atlantic 10, despite 2-3 below average seasons (by its own standards), remains in that class. It has averaged 3.0 NCAA teams per year in the Bracketology era. This is eighth-best in the country behind the so-called BCS leagues and shadow-of-itself Conference USA. In other words, the A-10 is now seventh-best out of 31 leagues.
Throw in three No. 1 teams – Temple (1988), UMass (1996) and Saint Joseph’s (2004) – and a pair of regional finalists as recently as three years ago, and the Atlantic 10 isn’t in the “middle” of anything in DI college basketball. It is by any measure the most accomplished conference of this era outside the top six.
You want to create a fourth tier at the very top of Division I for those six conferences? Go right ahead. I’ll join you as soon as its members play a respectable number of road games. Then we’ll know who the “highest” majors really are.
In the meantime, let’s recognize Xavier & Co. for what they truly are: Part of the very best in college basketball. Every year[/QUOTE]
IMO, that is the final word on the discussion of the term. Posted here for future reference.