Saturday, April 9, 2011

NCAA Double Standards and Basketball People

I want first to note a TERRIFIC op-ed piece in the New York Times yesterday by Joe Nocera.  It's called the NCAA's Double Standard.  Basically it talks about the different punishments the NCAA handed down to UConn coach Jim Calhoun and Baylor freshman Perry Jones.  Nocera further talks about the NCAA's punishment of five Ohio State players when they were "caught selling O.S.U. paraphernalia and pocketing the money".

When Nocera asked the NCAA's Stacey Osburn about these inconsistencies in NCAA punishment, Osburn replied "every situation is different".  Huh?  What about the core principle that they both violated a NCAA rule?

This is not the first time I have written about the No Clue At All and their lack of consistency in handing down punishment for rules infractions. Hofstra fans all know about the Brad Kelleher NCAA experience.  Kelleher gets suspended for a year and eight games for signing an application form while John Wall misses two games, one being an exhibition game in his suspension, for taking money from an agent.  Was Kelleher allowed to have an exhibition game count in his eight games in the second year?  No, because he didn't play for Kentucky.   Michael Litos wrote about it best here.

The funny thing about the No Clue At All is that the NCAA thinks they are still in the 1980's.  To them, there is no such thing as the Internet and that no one will realize or talk about their inconsistent punishments and their seeming favoritism towards big schools and big money.  Yes, Jones is on Baylor, but Baylor can't be compared to UConn in basketball or is certainly not Ohio State in the grand scheme of NCAA sports.

Litos calls for an overhaul of the process.  I am at least calling for a consistent punishment.  Here it is in a nutshell - You violate a rule, you are suspended IMMEDIATELY for whatever length of punishment the NCAA decides.  Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200 (or in Jim Calhoun's case $87,500 for winning the NCAA Tournament).

It's time for consistency in the NCAA.  And until there is consistency, people like me are going to keep calling the NCAA the No Clue At All.  And that doesn't mean I think the NCAA is a stupid organization.  Oh no, that's far from what I mean.  It means that they are so brazen in their favoritism towards certain schools (see aforementioned UConn, Kentucky and Ohio State) that they think they will not be called to the mat on it.  Not having a clue at all doesn't mean you're not smart.  Often it means that you think you are impervious to harm.

And perhaps the only way to deal with an organization that thinks it is impervious to harm is for someone to investigate the NCAA.  Perhaps it's time a government body investigates the NCAA's practices. As Jerry Tarkanian said last year the NCAA is "the crookedest organization in our society".  Tark sued the NCAA in 1992 and received a $2.5 million settlement in 1998.

Perhaps Tark was onto something there.


I have been meaning to get to this next topic for weeks. But since the NCAA Tournament played out so beautifully, sans UConn winning the national championship, I waited until now to talk about this.  Jay Bilas, who is now the subject/butt of one of the funnier T-shirts ever made, wrote an article for his ESPN insider blog called "How to Improve NCAA Selection".  Now you may not have ESPN Insider access, but since I do, (comes in handy for Fantasy Baseball), let me tell you about what he wrote.

But first, my favorite thing in the article was the caption under the picture of UAB playing Clemson in their First Four game.  It states "Before losing to Clemson in the First Four, fans criticized UAB for its inclusion in the tournament."

Fans?  Well yes, I am sure fans of Colorado, Alabama and Virginia Tech criticized UAB on their online chat boards.  And yes, even I didn't think UAB belonged in the tournament.   But "the fans" criticism of UAB didn't receive national attention.  It was the so-called experts, the analysts like Jay Bilas, Hubert Davis, Dick Vitale etc who ripped the Selection Committee for the inclusion of UAB and VCU in the tournament.  As Bilas noted "These were bad decisions.  We talk about the eye test.  This one fails the laugh test."

Well, I'll get back to that last Bilas comment later, but in his article, Bilas writes that they should split up the selection committee and have only "'basketball people' in charge of selection and seeding only."  Bilas continues to write "Some people hear 'basketball people' and recoil and feel like it is basketball snobbery. It is not."  But then Bilas adds this part to the article.

For years, selection committee members have told people that the input and experience of members like Dave Gavitt, Carroll Williams and C.M. Newton have been invaluable. If that is true, why not have a committee of 10 people with that kind of experience?

Sorry, but when I saw "C.M. Newton", I just recoiled BIG TIME.  If you are one of the few, the proud, the loyal readers of my blog, you know how much love I have for C.M. Newton.  Not.   If you don't know by now, Newton is the Chair of the NIT Selection Committee.  When the NIT selection committee did the seeding for the NIT Tournament, they gave #1 seeds to Boston College and Colorado.  Harvard, who had beaten BC on the Eagles' home court and won a neutral site game vs. Colorado got a #6 seed.  C.M. was interviewed on the ESPNU NIT Selection Show and said they spent a lot of time deciding the #1 seeds.

Well apparently, they didn't spend enough time on the #1 seeds. BC was destroyed at home by Northwestern by 18 points in the second round of the tournament and Virginia Tech lost at home to eventual NIT champion Wichita State.  Wichita State was a #4 seed despite having a higher RPI than Colorado or Alabama, who the Shockers defeated in the NIT Championship.

Newton will always also be near and dear in my heart for this dandy.  In the 2010 NIT, William and Mary played on the road to North Carolina, despite having a much higher RPI (58 vs. 92) and despite having beat Wake Forest and Maryland, two 2010 NCAA Tournament teams, on the road.   The Tar Heels lost at Maryland by 21.  W&M had ten road wins, as opposed to two for UNC.  North Carolina was also at FIVE HUNDRED, 16-16 going into the NIT Tournament.

So when asked when Tony Shaver thought it was "an injustice" that the Tribe had to go on to the road to play the Tar heels, Newton first said that the committee thought North Carolina was the better team (?)  and then responded with this beauty of a quote to Brian Mull.

"They should go over to Chapel Hill and whip their fannies and blame it all on us. That’s the beauty of basketball. We’ll get to find out. All they had to do was win a couple more games and we wouldn’t be having this discussion"

How about North Carolina should have won a few more games in 2009-10 and you wouldn't be having this discussion?  Yes, North Carolina won the game, but they had to rally from behind at home (in this case sold out Carmichael Arena) in the last two and half minutes to beat William and Mary.

The point is this -  Jay, if you think C.M. Newton should be one of the basketball people in the NCAA Selection Committee process, well then you are more wrong than your comment about VCU.   If you are going to have a committee with Newton and Gavitt (the former Big East Commissioner and Providence coach) and similar types on it, then you need to have "basketball people" that know about mid major basketball. Williams, the former Santa Clara AD is a start, but people like Tom Brennan or Mark Adams, two former coaches, now analysts, who know about good mid major teams, would be good additions as well.  But personally, I would leave Newton with the NIT, since he is so good at it (chuckle).

Bilas also stated that Selection Sunday should be moved to a week prior to Championship Week, aka the Sunday before.  Well actually Jay, Championship Week is really two weeks. The first week of March is the mid major tournaments, then the second week is the Power Six/A-10/Mountain West championships (with a couple of mid major championships as well).  It's actually not a bad idea, but the Power Six conferences would never allow it, because they make their money in the conference tournaments, and you would also have to take in account the possibility of teams that wouldn't make the tournament otherwise getting auto bids (nearly had that with Dayton in the A-10).

Finally, Bilas says that the NCAA needs new metrics.  Bilas states "The RPI is a useless metric in basketball. That seems to have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt."   He recommends using Ken Pomeroy and Sagarin.

First, the RPI is useless and "that seems to have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt" ?  Bilas, I am glad you didn't pursue a career in law, because here's my evidence otherwise.  Before the NCAA Tournament started, VCU had a higher RPI than Virginia Tech, Colorado and Alabama, three teams that Bilas and friends said belonged in before VCU.  Well, we all know how the Rams did in the NCAA Tournament, so I think the RPI deserves a little vindication.  And as I noted above, before the NIT Tournament started, Wichita State had a higher RPI than Alabama.  Who beat who in the NIT championship?  Again, the team with the higher RPI.

As for Pomeroy, a lot of people like his ratings.  I am not a big fan of his ratings and I have one major case in point. In his ratings, he has Virginia Tech as the 34th best team in the country.  Now, if the Selection Committee had used his ratings, Virginia Tech would have been the 25th best at large team in the country and would have had seeds higher than Vanderbilt, Georgetown, St John's, Temple, Xavier and Texas A&M - all of which had seeds of seven or higher in the NCAA Tournament.  Now we can all agree that Virginia Tech was at best a bubble team, certainly not worthy of a seven seed or better.

And if that's not enough for you, Pomeroy has Maryland as his 36th best team in his ratings.  Now Maryland wasn't even on the radar of the NCAA Selection Committee nor did any analysts think Maryland was wrongly denied of an at large spot.  By the way, the RPI had Maryland at 94.  Useless metric my butt.

So if it came down to using Pomeroy or the RPI, I'll take the RPI every time.

Now I grant you, the Selection Committee did a bad job in seeding and yes, UAB wasn't a good choice (I could have told you that by the Moore Primer).   But if there is anything that sums up leaving the Selection Committee the way it is and using the metrics it currently is using, well it's three letters.

V...C...U.  The selection committee's eye test was a lot better than Bilas' laugh test.  Now whatcha talkin bout Bilas?


  1. Would you agree that the NIT has money (read-attendance) issues that severely impact its seeding decisions? Shame on CM for not admitting that but some realism has to be a part of the analysis, no? Nice article overall, just a little acidic.

  2. Thanks for the comments. The article was meant to be acidic in light of the NCAA's inconsistent punishment and Bilas' somewhat knee jerk response to the NCAA Selection Committee's choices.

    I am going to write a response article based on your comments. I think you brought out a good point on money/seeding that needs to be explained further.