Last summer, we got a taste of a potential earth-shifting movement in major collegiate sports, where the already powerful BCS conferences fall by the wayside and give way to the omnipotent Superconference. If the NCAA continues to refuse to arrange a football playoff system, some speculate that perhaps, for example, the SEC and ACC could merge to become one league, or Big 12 and Pac 10 co-mingle, crowing their own champion that is entirely separate from the bowl system.
While NCAA basketball currently struggles with a lack of truly great teams and players, Big East basketball continues to flex its muscles as not only the most competitive conference in college hoops, but also the deepest and, frankly, most interesting. Boasting 16 programs that are predominately basketball-first, football-second, the Big East has become the de facto first superconference in college sports based on its sheer volume of competitive teams and disparity of talent when compared to its peers, and this week its five-day conference tournament will showcase the most enthralling of its kind in the country.
As it stands, the Big East is poised to almost certainly send 10 teams the NCAA Tournament (and possibly more, according our latest Bracketology). Some simple number crunching shows that if this were to occur, 63 percent of the conference will technically play for a national championship, and 15 percent of the entire NCAA Tournament field will hail from the Big East. You’re probably asking if that breaks some sort of record. It does, currently held by the Big East, twice. In both 2006 and 2008 the conference sent eight teams to the NCAA Tournament.
On Sunday, the Huffington Post’s Larry Atkins penned an article decrying the idea that one conference could have this many teams invited to the party, imploring the NCAA to implement a bid-allocation process that allows each conference to receive no more than five bids. Some caveats would be in play to allow for additional teams to be included, but the point was made.
The NCAA Tournament selection committee needs to spread the wealth around. In the last few years, they've usually given the benefit of the doubt to Bubble teams from the Big Six Conferences over teams from smaller conferences. Unless they stop following this trend, the NCAA needs to mandate more inclusion of the smaller schools into the field.
In addition to being disjointed, Larry’s argument is also unsettling and a tad unfounded. Taking away bids from the Big East because you’re more interested in diplomatically setting the field of 68 is disingenuous to fans looking for the most robust product on our televisions. I can’t quantify it, but I’m confident a middling Big East team can compete and provide higher entertainment value to an above average mid-major team. Sure it's an argument that needs another 750 words to truly justify, but we all know what's good for us.
Some lambaste the Big East clubs for not challenging themselves more in the non-conference portion of their season. Not only do they look for cupcakes, but they also look to stay at home. This methodology shouldn't really criticized, however. Why serve yourself up with heavyweights early when you know there's plenty of them waiting for the conference portion of your schedule? Big East clubs aren't worried about proverbially stroking their egos, they know the rigors they're up against come the turn of the new year, and their more concerned with just being healthy and ready come March. At the conclusion of the 2010-2011 regular season, the Big East possessed the No. 1 strength of schedule ranking, with all but one of the likely tournament teams boasting an SOS of less than 35, and four of those teams having an SOS of less than 15.
The Big East Tournament is so good it needs five whole days to crown a champion - and the overkill is absloutely fine with me. As is not the case with every conference tournament, there is substantial money to be made, so blowing this whole thing out to allow all teams a chance to taste glory is not only great for fans, it makes smart business sense. Maybe in 20 years, the team hoisting the trophy at center court of Madison Square Garden will be holding hardware just as sought after as that thing we used to call a National Championship.