Thursday, June 17, 2010

Wooden, The Big 12 Survives and One Last Comment On Play In Games

It's good to finally be able to write an article again as things have finally calmed down.  First, I would be remiss without making some kind of comment about the passing of John Wooden.  I have a friend who is a big fan of Wooden and who has read several of his books.  My friend always talked about how Wooden truly believed and talked about preparation.  Wooden's belief was that if his teams were prepared, no matter what the other team did, his teams would be successful.  Obviously, his UCLA teams were very successful, winning 10 national championships and posting an .808 winning percentage (in conference play, the Bruins had an .825 winning percentage).

As I read many articles online that discussed Wooden's passing or his coaching history, one NY Times article in particular highlighted Wooden's belief in preparation.  Some of Wooden's players asked him one day if they could miss practice to stage an antiwar protest.
“He asked us if this reflected our convictions,” one player, Steve Patterson, told Sports Illustrated in 1989, “and we told him it did. He told us he had his convictions, too, and if we missed practice it would be the end of our careers at U.C.L.A.” 
That quote reinforces Wooden's belief in preparation.  The NY Times article also talked about Wooden's three main ideals around his coaching philosophy - his teams had to be in the best possible condition, they had to have "quickness" in that his players, no matter what position had to be quicker than their opponent, and finally, his team "...better play together as a team or you sit."

One last thing on Wooden.  I was reading a Newsday article on the Sunday after he passed and one of his quotes became my signature line on my e-mail messages at work.

"If you're not making mistakes, then you're not doing anything.  I'm positive that a doer makes mistakes."
Words to live by.

Last week looked like armageddon in the college conference world.  Colorado accepted an invitation to join the PAC-10.  Nebraska joined the Big 10.  Boise State then joined the Mountain West.  And to top all that, the PAC-10 was in serious negotiation to bring Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State into the fold.   In fact, last Saturday, it looked like a done deal.  It apparently signaled the demise of the Big 12, with the Mountain West poised to sweep up the remnants of the Big 12  such as Kansas and Missouri. It also looked like it would set off a chain reaction that would affect other conferences in the country.

Then, an eleven hour reprieve occurred on Monday.  Apparently a group of "influential people" banded together and helped broker a deal that would keep Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in the Big 12,  The deal would enable Texas to get $20-25 million annually from a new league TV deal and allow them to create their own TV network.   Oklahoma and Oklahoma State would also get more revenue from the new TV deal as well.

So what does this all mean now that Texas and company are staying put in the Big 12, or whatever it's called now (They can't use the Big Ten, it's already taken)?   Well, let's look under Winners and Losers.


Big 12 or whatever it will be called -  Hey, whatever you call it, the conference still exists and you could say it's now stronger than ever.   A larger TV deal and a streamlined conference for both football and basketball.   Now in the Big 12, each team will play each other twice in the basketball season and each other once in football season. They may lose the football conference title game since they are only ten teams now, but that makes the regular season matter more.

Dan Beebe - Only a few days ago, it looked like the Big 12 Commissioner was going to be presiding over the demise of his conference, which would have no doubt put his name in infamy.  Now Beebe stands tall, having fended off the PAC-10's advances on the core of their teams and made more money for the conference schools in general.  Nice.

NCAA - A few days ago, when it looked like there would be major conference realignment throughout the land, there was the talk of the BCS super conferences joining together and how they might form their own league, change the landscape of college sports and force out the NCAA.   Well, mind you this is speculation, but I really honestly think the NCAA got involved in saving the Big 12.   With the Big 12 remaining intact, the landscape of college sports remains basically same (sans the aforementioned three schools moving and likely now Utah as well).  No Super PAC-16 and the Big Ten remains twelve teams for now.   Sure there is still the possibility of the Big Ten going after some Big East teams, but it looks less likely now.


PAC-10 and Larry Scott - Only a few days ago, the PAC-10 was on the verge of becoming a major superconference.  PAC-10 Commissioner Scott promised the PAC-10 schools significant revenue when the Texas- Oklahoma schools contingent came aboard.   Well all that is left is Colorado and now likely Utah.  Instead of the PAC-16, we have the PAC-12.  Not quite the significant revenue boost the PAC-10 was looking for. 

Colorado - The Buffaloes were figuring that their move would be the starting point for the core of the Big 12 to follow to the PAC-10.  Oops.  Now the Buffaloes are the eleventh team in the apparently soon to be PAC-12.  Don't see how this move helps them, except if they think they can get more conference wins in basketball.

Mountain West - The MWC added Boise State and looked poised to grab Kansas and Missouri with the seemingly certain demise of the Big 12.   If the Big 12 demise had occurred, the Mountain West was the likely choice to replace the Big 12 in the BCS.  Hello huge payday!  Now, the Mountain West continues to be on the outside looking in as far as the BCS.  And to make matters worse, there is a good chance the Pac-10 will even out their league as they have invited Utah to join their conference.

Finally, my friend Grant sent me this interesting and often very hilarious interview billionaire T Boone Pickens did about the Big 12.  I have no doubt he was one of the "influential people" responsible for saving the Big 12.

Here at the College Hardwood, we try to move on in life and in basketball.  We try to talk about subjects at most a couple of times, then move on and refer back to them only when the basketball news of the day warrants us to do so.   So hopefully for the final time, I am going to comment about the expansion to 68 teams and the new four play-in games, only because recent news warrants me to do so.

A few weeks ago, Jay Bilas wrote an article on ESPN called "Play-in teams Will Be Stigmatized?  Please."  It was based on a comment by Northeast Conference (NEC) Commisioner Noreen Morris who said the following about the play in game.
"I think if you find yourself in that game every year, it becomes a bit of a stigma and it can be used in negative recruiting and just an overall branding problem for our conference.
Morris went on further to say "you don't want the same conferences in those opening rounds every year."

Well Bilas, to put it bluntly, went off on Morris' statements.
"First, a team doesn't "find itself" in the play-in game. It earns its way there by its record, its play and its standing in the game. You don't "find yourself" in the play-in game, just as you don't "find yourself" in the Final Four.
Second, and most importantly, how can one use the term "stigmatize" with regard to the earned honor of playing for the national championship? Stigmatize is defined as "to set some mark of infamy or disgrace upon." So playing for the national championship as one of the lower-seeded teams is stigmatizing, or a mark of infamy or disgrace?

By that logic, expansion is a mark of dishonor on the teams that are at the end of the line. Perhaps we should contract the field and take it back to 32 teams. After all, we wouldn't want to brand anyone as a disgrace."
Now I find Jay Bilas to be a very good in game analyst.  But I often find his commentary on his blog to be hit or miss.  This is a big time miss.   First, I grant you that NEC Commissioner Morris should not have used the word "stigma."   Not the correct word I would have chosen.  The word I would have chosen is "unfair".

First, if you are one of the few, the proud, my regular readers, you know how I have talked a couple of times about the original play-in game to be the most unfair game in the NCAA Tournament.  The most recent article was this past March. Two teams that have received "automatic bids", meaning they EARNED their right to make the NCAA tournament, have to "play-in" to the Round of 64.

So now with expansion to 68 teams, there will be now four play-in games.  And there are only two scenarios for this.  1) The lowest eight automatic bid conferences will be in the play-in games or 2) the last eight at large teams will be in the play in games.

If it is scenario #1, then Commissioner Morris has a legitimate beef stating that you will see the "same conferences in those opening rounds every year".  And here is her proof.  Below is the list of conferences and the number of times their teams have played in the ten play-in games.

SWAC 5, MEAC 4, Big South 3, MAAC 2, NEC 2, Ohio Valley 1, Patriot League 1, Southland 1, Summit 1

The SWAC and MEAC have combined for NINE of the twenty teams that have played in the play-in game.    And notice, there are only nine conferences that have played in the play in game.  So, based on STATISTICS, Commissioner Morris is right, if you have make the four play in games with the eight lowest seeded automatic bid qualifiers, you will likely see the same conferences in the play in game every year.

Here's what Bilas had to say further about Morris' comment.
This silliness is really just confirmation of something we already knew. The "play-in" game is not and never has been a part of the "real NCAA tournament." Otherwise, why would anyone attach the word "stigma" to it?
Here is an idea: If you want to avoid the "play-in" games, play well, win your games and get seeded in the top 60. Every conference has the same opportunity to win, so win -- especially when you have the chance against quality nonconfernce opponents -- and you won't have to worry about it.

And if you find yourself in one of the four "play-in" games, then be pleased that a team ranked outside of the top 60 in the nation gets a chance to compete for the national title.

Bilas has never been fond of small mid major conferences. He has in the past actually stated several times that the automatic bid qualifier should be removed and that the NCAA Tournament should be the best 64 teams.

The fact of the matter is that ever should happen, you will have very few mid major teams in the NCAA Tournament and the NCAA Tournament will look like the NIT on steroids, meaning that you will have lots of mediocre power conference teams with .500 and sub .500 conference records in the tournament.

What Bilas doesn't understand is that the beauty of the NCAA Tournament is that small and mid major conferences get to play on the same large stage together in a single elimination tournament.  But obviously it's not just the tournament that small conference teams play power conference teams.  Obviously teams like Duke, Kansas, and UConn for example offer small conference teams large sums of money to play regular season non conference games on the big conference teams' home sites.   If Bilas has his way, why bother with those games?  Why would it matter for a small conference team to play Kansas other than to make money?

Let's face it, the MEAC, SWAC, Big South, NEC etc are small colleges and universities who simply don't have the budget/endowment to compete with the Dukes, UConns, and UCLAs of the world.  But the NCAA saw it fit that those conferences are DIVISION I conferences thus they can compete on the same level as the power conference teams.

If Bilas had his way, then the great upsets of the past, #15 Coppin State over #2 South Carolina, #15 Hampton over Iowa State, or #14 Weber State over North Carolina never happen.   And that's what makes the NCAA Tournament so much better than the BCS or the College Bowl games.  You don't get upsets of that magnitude occurring in a BCS game or the College Bowl system.

As for Bilas' comment of " If you want to avoid the "play-in" games, play well, win your games and get seeded in the top 60", I want to give you a case in point of a team that did everything it could this past season but still got put in the play in game.

Arkansas Pine Bluff finished second in the SWAC with a very solid 14-4 conference record.  In non conference they went out a play a brutal non conference road schedule with losses to Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech, Missouri, UTEP and Kansas State - all NCAA Tournament Teams (also lost at NIT participant Arizona State).  In fact their non conference schedule was ranked the eighth toughest non conference schedule in the country this past season.  They won their conference tournament and "automatically" qualified for the NCAA Tournament.  They EARNED their way into the NCAA Tournament.Yet, because they play in the lowly SWAC conference, they get to play in the qualifier, which they won over Winthrop. 

But if Bilas had it his way, the Golden Lions wouldn't see the light of day in the NCAA Tournament and a team like Virginia Tech that had a non conference strength of schedule ranking of 307 and couldn't even make it out of the ACC tournament quarterfinals would make the tournament.  Tell me that's earning a spot in the tournament.  Tell me that the Hokies were one of the 64 best teams in the country.

If we want the truly best 64 teams in the tournament like Bilas wants, well first, make the play in games the last eight at large teams in the tournament, which are often power conference teams that either played .500 in conference during the season ( examples over the past few years - Minnesota, Arizona. Maryland) or stumbled their way into the NCAA Tournament by losing in their conference quarterfinals (see Wake Forest).   Make them EARN their way into the tournament.   And the even better second step, require that teams eligible for at large berths to the NCAA tournament MUST have an above .500 record in conference.  No more rewarding regular season mediocrity.

Bilas finished his article with "The truth is, there are not enough quality teams that can compete favorably for a national championship right now, so there was certainly no urgency to expand the field for competitive reasons."   Bilas is misguided.  It's not the small conferences that wanted tournament expansion.  It's the power conferences that wanted expansion.  

If you want expansion to 68 teams that's fine with me (sure beats 96).  But if you want to be in that round of 64, make the at large teams earn their way in.  Don't do at the expense of teams that "automatically qualified" to be in the tournament like Arkansas Pine Bluff and other low conference automatic qualifiers.  They did "earn" their way in.