The 2007 Mid-Major Conference

Refer to this post if you don’t know what this is about or to catch up on the rules.

This year, six conferences produced multiple bids to the NCAA tournament: the MVC, MWC, WAC, A-10, CAA, and Horizon. These conferences are guaranteed one spot each in the Mid-Major Conference.

Four teams reached the Sweet 16, all from different conferences; only one of these teams did not come from a multi-bid conference. (In my view, Memphis’ trip to the Sweet 16 is tainted by the fact there were no major teams in its pod.) Of the three multi-bid conferences that did not produce a Sweet 16 team, all had one team win its first-round game and one team lose its first-round game. (This also applies to the three conferences to produce Sweet 16 teams as well.)

This leaves only one spot in the MMC to be determined by my discretion, with no conference restrictions.

Without further ado, the eight members of the 2007 Mid-Major Conference:

Butler (Horizon League)
Southern Illinois (Missouri Valley Conference)
UNLV (Mountain West Conference)
Memphis (Conference USA)
Nevada (Western Athletic Conference)
Xavier (Atlantic 10)
Virginia Commonwealth (Colonial Athletic Association)
Winthrop (Big South Conference)
Honorable mentions: Appalachian State, Akron, Marist

Davidson, Appalacian State, and Winthrop were the main contenders for the last spot. Davidson’s case was hurt by a big loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and the fact that it would lose a tiebreaker to App State. I wanted to reward the strong year for the SoCon with an MMC spot, especially since I considered App State’s resume to be awfully strong to dismiss completely for an NCAA bid, but getting demolished by Ole Miss in the first round of the NIT didn’t exactly fill me with confidence. Winthrop finally broke through the glass ceiling and won its first NCAA Tournament game; that must deserve special recognition. Rest assured, App State would be the first team in if the MMC were nine teams deep.

Marist makes the honorable mentions because it’s the only team from a conference not producing multiple NCAA bids to win its first round NIT game.

Sports Watcher for the Weekend of 3/24-25

All times PDT.

Saturday
9-11 AM: Women’s College Basketball, Bowling Green v. Arizona State (ESPN). ESPN has this really weird concept, when they’re showing the women’s tournament, called “showing every Sweet 16 game to the entire country.”

11:30-1:30 PM: Women’s College Basketball, Rutgers v. Duke (ESPN). If the Duke-haters are going through withdrawl since Coach K got pwned by VCU, at least the women have a cupcake path to the Final Four.

1:30-3:30 PM: College Basketball, Ohio State v. Memphis (CBS). Memphis will lead the Buckeyes for awhile before ultimately collapsing improbably.

4-6 PM: College Basketball, Kansas v. UCLA (CBS). Two of the most storied programs in college basketball, and they’re probably reduced to carrying Florida’s water.

6-8 PM: Women’s College Basketball, NC State v. Connecticut (ESPN). According to ESPN’s advertising, NC State’s run is inspiring for some reason. Hell if I know why.

8:30-10:30 PM: Women’s College Basketball, Florida State v. LSU (ESPN2). “Hmm… we’ve got a game the majority of which will be played after midnight on the East Coast. Who should we have playing there?” “How about an East Coast team against a Central Time Zone team?” (Actually, Stanford was upset by 10-seed FSU in the second round.)

Sunday
8-9 AM: Drag Racing, NHRA Lucas Oil Series (ESPN2): Oh wait, you say April Fools’ day is still a week away?

9-11 AM: Women’s College Basketball, Marist v. Tennessee (ESPN). Marist has had two improbable upsets over overrated BCS teams. Now they face… Pat Summitt. Welcome to reality, Foxes.

11:30-4 PM (or 2-4 PM, see below): College Basketball, Midwest (Florida v. UNLV/Oregon) and East (Georgetown v. North Carolina/USC) regional finals (CBS). Watch Florida basically get coronated into the Final Four, and then watch an actual college basketball game. Or vice versa. Who knows?

Only if Florida is in the first CBS game
11:30-1:30 PM: Women’s College Basketball, Mississippi v. Oklahoma (ESPN2). Courtney Paris has a double-double in all but three games of her collegiate career, including 60 straight. So naturally she’s due for a letdown.

Honorable Mention: 10:30-3 PM: NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Racing, Food City 500 (FOX). If your bracket’s busted and you don’t care what happens from here on out, why not watch some history instead? This is the first NEXTEL Cup race to use the “Car of Tomorrow”, the next generation of stock-car racing vehicle. Expect the sloppiest race you’ve ever seen, of course.

4-6 PM: Women’s College Basketball, Georgia v. Purdue (ESPN2). Bet you never thought of Purdue as a power women’s team. I never thought of any Big Ten team as a power women’s team.

6:30-8:30 PM: Women’s College Basketball, George Washington v. North Carolina (ESPN2). Hey, it’s George Mason all over again!

After college basketball: Mid-Major Conference Naming Ceremony (Da Blog). One mid is in the Elite Eight, one lost in the Sweet 16, two are still playing in the Sweet 16, and the rest never made it out of the first weekend. That’s good enough to name the members of the first MMC.

Gonzaga: The Mid-Major Duke?

This should piss off fans of teams in mid-major college basketball conferences.

The West Coast conference has signed a new agreement with ESPN for various sports coverage through 2011. For the most part, it seems to make sense – 10 games on ESPNU per year between all sports, for example.

But then there’s the seven intra-conference college basketball games, each year, split between ESPN, ESPN2, and ABC, plus the semifinals and finals of the WCC tournament. That doesn’t make so much sense.

It should be obvious this is entirely because of the success of Gonzaga. Exactly two WCC games on ESPN, ESPN2, and ABC this season covered the Zags – one of them being the other conference semifinal – out of 11 all-WCC. But what, exactly, is the rest of the WCC doing to deserve such national attention?

I’ve seen people look at the WCC’s conference RPI and declare them to be in the top tier of mid-major conferences. This year the WCC is the 14th-highest rated conference in all the land in a down year for the Zags, according to kenpom.com. Factor out Gonzaga, and they fall to 17th – behind the MAC, Patriot League, and Big West.

Last year, the only non-Big Six conferences the WCC didn’t beat were the MVC, MWC, WAC, CAA, and A-10. But factor out Gonzaga in a year they were RPI #10, and the WCC falls six spots – below the C-USA, MAAC, Horizon, MAC, Big Sky, and Sun Belt. It’s evident that the WCC without Gonzaga is near the top of the second tier, and in fact, in 2005 the WCC was behind only the Big Six, the MVC, and the pre-Big-East-robbery C-USA – after factoring out another banner year for the Zags.

But seven WCC intra-conference games? Including spots on ABC, which barely shows any college basketball? Sure, most if not all of them will involve the Zags, but can we control the salivation just a little? Is there any other way for a mid-level mid-major team to get on ABC? Do teams like Duke get this many games against weak opposition in front of such a large national audience?

Without Gonzaga, the MVC, MWC, WAC, CAA, A-10, Horizon, and MAC all have beaten the WCC both this year and last year. With or without the Zags, the MVC has consistently beaten the WCC every year since 2004, and both this year and last year has beaten at least one Big Six conference in the Conference RPI.

But the conference that gives the high majors fits every year signed an extension with ESPN in October for “an expanded number of national appearances” – 28 in all, but 10 of those are on ESPNU, you know, the network no one gets? Only 8 appearances on ESPN(2) are guaranteed each year, and exactly 5 intraconference games this year, all on ESPN2. (According to one report, every game regular ESPN is showing this year involving two mid-major teams involves Memphis or the Zags.) The MVC continues to have the semifinals of its conference tournament on local/regional television – the SEC is the only Big Six conference without a national audience for its semifinals, unless you count the Pac-10’s national agreement with FSN. Even the MWC and (in a holdover from its major days) C-USA have their semifinals on CSTV. The Horizon League has theirs on ESPNU, as does the frickin’ OVC. And need I remind you of the WCC getting their semifinals on ESPN2?

Since that “beneficial” agreement, the Valley has seen Southern Illinois become the #6 team in the RPI. Since 1999, the last year for which kenpom.com has information, the highest the Zags have been able to muster is a #9. In fact, the last time a team outside the Big Six or C-USA was in the RPI Top 6 was #3 St. Joe’s in 2004, also the only time it’s happened since ’99… perhaps because they nearly went undefeated that year. Oh, and even C-USA has only done it three times since 1999. Oops.

I don’t seem to be alone… A search on Google for “the missouri valley is a (major OR high-major) conference” returns 1.1 million hits. By contrast, “gonzaga is a (major OR high-major) team” gets only 631,000 hits. In other Google news, “gonzaga sucks” gets 77,800 hits, comparable to 59,600 for “gonzaga is overrated”. They have a long way to go to catch the 1.06 million for “duke sucks” or the 511,000 for “duke is overrated”. As for the Valley, “the “missouri valley” sucks” gets 18,900 hits, to 23,300 for “the “missouri valley” is overrated” – both of which outpace Gonzaga if you take the quotes around “missouri valley” out, though. Hmm…

Coming Soon: The Mid-Major Conference

If you don’t follow college basketball at all – if you seriously pick 16 seeds to win first-round games over 1’s and pick teams based on whether you like their names or mascots – this post is NOT for you. It gets into a lot of esoterica that you probably wouldn’t care for. But if you’re one of those people who have been clamoring for me to put up some of my numerous projects, today is your lucky day!

Turn on any random regular season college basketball game, and chances are it’s a game involving teams from one of the six high-major conferences. If you get some other conference you probably live in or near it. It’s teams from the six biggest conferences that get the most NCAA Tournament bids, and it’s teams from those six conferences – the same ones that make up the BCS conferences in college football – that get the most attention. They’re the teams from the ACC, SEC, Big 10, Pac-10, Big 12, and Big East.

But… there are a lot of conferences outside the Big Six. Conferences with names like the MEAC, the SWAC, the WAC, the Southland, the Big South, the Big Sky, Horizon, America East, Atlantic 10… that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

Every year, teams from these conferences shock the world by beating Big Six conference teams in the NCAA tournament. They valiantly fight their way to bids in the NCAA Tournament, even if they don’t win their conference, and people get mad at them because they think all the bids should go to Big Six teams. Teams like Gonzaga have consistently proved the mettle of teams in the mid-majors by beating the odds and having high levels of success.

In fact, if you took all the best teams from the mid-major conferences and put them in one super-conference… that conference would probably have to be considered on a level with the Big Six conferences, maybe better.

So, at the end of the season, after the Final Four, I will name the eight teams to make up the 2007 Mid-Major Conference. It won’t have any bearing on anything right now – there’s no reward, monetary or otherwise, and it isn’t anything more than something on paper – and probably won’t even be heard of beyond the small group of people who read Da Blog. The goal is to recognize eight teams whose quality of play competes with those in the best conferences in the country.

There are some simple, but restrictive rules governing the selection of the MMC teams, with restrictions higher on the list taking precedence:

  • The Mid-Major Conference shall consist of eight teams representing the best of college basketball, outside the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Big East, Pac-10, and SEC conferences.
  • No conference shall have more than one team in the MMC.
  • Any conference that produces at least one at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament will be represented.
  • Any team that makes it to the Regional Semifinal (“Sweet 16”) or later in the NCAA tournament will automatically be represented. In the case of a conflict between two or more deserving teams under this criterion, the team to have advanced the furthest shall be counted. If two teams from the same conference advance the same distance in the NCAA tournament, the tie is broken by head-to-head record and respective distance traveled in the conference tournament.
  • If conferences with automatic spots under the third criterion have no qualifying teams under the fourth, the tie is broken in this order: whether or not any teams won their first-round tournament game, head-to-head record, respective distance traveled in the conference tournament.
  • If spots remain in the Mid-Major Conference after these criteria have been exhausted, or if there remains a tie in a conference under the third criterion after the criteria in the fourth or fifth criterion have been exhausted, the remaining selections will be made by my discretion. Being in the NCAA Tournament is not a qualification for being selected to the MMC, and in fact it is possible (but rare) for a team that won its first-round game to not get in the MMC while a team that settled for a long NIT run does. This is the “Northwestern State Rule”: getting lucky in one game doesn’t get you an automatic spot in the MMC.

Sports Watcher for the Weekend of 1/20-21

This is an experiment that, should the topic of Da Blog ultimately fit it (and maybe even if it doesn’t), will become a regular feature every Friday. I’ll hand out my picks for the go-to sports to watch for the weekend. I choose only one game between competing games, and choose as many sports as possible within those parameters. All times PST.

Saturday
12:30-3 AM: Tennis, Australian Open, 3rd round play (ESPN). Assuming you don’t need too much sleep, of course.

9-11 AM: College Basketball, Louisville @ DePaul (ESPN). Combine for a 5-4 conference record. Really just a warmup for the next two parts of the tripleheader.

11 AM-1 PM: College Basketball, Wisconsin @ Illinois (ESPN). What the hell is Wisconsin doing with a power basketball program? This is their best record in over ninety years.

1-3 PM: College Basketball, Arizona @ UCLA (FSN). Arizona’s Marcus Williams not only is a Seattle product, he went to my high school. I never saw a game, only heard of him secondhand before last year, don’t like the idea of being a fan of whatever school you went to, and loathe many of my old high school traditions with a passion, yet I still find myself following the Wildcats. (Did I mention that this is a matchup of the top two RPI teams in the country?)

4-7 PM: College Football, East-West Shrine Game (ESPN2). One of college football’s many all-star games. What exactly is it? I don’t have a clue.

7-10 PM: Tennis, Australian Open, octofinal play (ESPN2). If tennis was as huge in this country as it is in some others, networks would be falling over themselves to put this in primetime. Especially with the new and improved Andy Roddick and Serena Williams likely to show up either here or in the insomniac session.

Sunday
12:30-3:30 AM: Tennis, Australian Open, octofinal play (ESPN2). Insomniac Special time!

10-11:30 AM: PBA Bowling, Dick Weber Open (ESPN). The football just barely overlaps with the basketball, so why not watch people roll really heavy balls around? Here’s one thing I might say about the PBA: When 9-spare is considered heartbreaking, maybe the competition is too good. That’s the problem with the pro versions of stuff a significant number of ordinary people do.

12-3:30 PM: NFL Football, New Orleans @ Chicago (FOX). Clearly the same teams go to the Super Bowl year after year in the NFL. Sure, 3 of the last 4 NFC champions were going into their first Super Bowls ever, but these two teams combine for a whopping 1 Super Bowl appearances. Yeah, I know, but that one appearance was only, oh, 20 years ago.

3:30-7 PM: NFL Football, New England at Indianapolis (CBS). Yes, the Colts under Manning have never been to the Super Bowl, yes, they’ve never beaten the Patriots in the playoffs, and yes, Peyton Manning is not the Manning we’re used to in these playoffs. But they’re at home!

After Football: Let two weeks of unending Super Bowl hype begin…

How much is that team in the window?

This will probably seem completely swerve-y compared to the posts so far, but it could look completely in place compared to what could come later, even if the topic eventually chosen has nothing to do with sports. (Keep commenting on the post below this one!) If your eyes completely glaze over at this stuff, please skip past it to the posts below.

ESPN has an intriguing story on Portland, Oregon’s efforts to land a major league baseball team, namely, the Florida Marlins, who are currently engaged in stadium woes. The case is compelling, with a stadium deal on the table, and one of the largest markets without an MLB team. Of the four traditional major sports, Portland holds only one, the NBA’s Trail Blazers; it’s the largest metropolitan area in the 2000 Census with but one team from the traditional four major sports, and ranked behind only San Diego for having two or fewer. (The Census has since broadened its definition of a metro area, splitting Baltimore from Washington and nonsensically splitting Riverside and San Bernardino counties from the LA area into its own metro area that tops all three.) According to the article, one research group ranked Portland behind only New York and LA for having the highest ratio of population to traditional big four teams.

On both ratio and being the largest market with either only an NBA team or no baseball team, Portland is behind Orlando and Sacramento on Nielsen’s list of TV markets. But both those markets are far closer to their natural alternative alliegiance (Tampa Bay and the SF Bay Area, respectively) than Portland is to Seattle, the nearest MLB team.

Las Vegas, Charlotte, and San Antonio are also mentioned as expressing interest, and Northern New Jersey (which would make MLB join the NHL as the only even remotely prominent leagues with three teams in one market), Orlando, and Norfolk/Hampton Roads are also flirted with. Under the old Census definition, Hampton Roads is the largest metro area without any traditional major league team, with Las Vegas right behind, but both have their problems (in Vegas’ case, the whole gambling thing). Connecticut leads the list of Nielsen markets, though it does have the WNBA’s Sun, followed by West Palm Beach, Grand Rapids (who have the Arena Football League’s Rampage), Birmingham AL, Harrisburg PA, Hampton Roads, and Las Vegas.

The Marlins are not the only team with stadium woes. The NHL’s Penguins are also haggling over stadiums and may be out of Pittsburgh next year. Kansas City is considered the front-runner, but Houston is the States’ largest old-definition metro area and largest Nielsen market without an NHL team (and have reportedly expressed interest), though it’s very south and the league’s southern movement is seen as to blame for its recent woes. Seattle follows close behind in both; though there’s theoretically an attraction with the Vancouver Canucks, being a Seattleite myself I don’t see it, though one difference with baseball in Portland is we don’t get the Canucks on TV. Quebec City and ex-NHL city Winnepeg are Canadian metro areas 7 and 8; the Canadian NHL teams line up with the top 6 metro areas exactly.

Seattle itself is the center of stadium woes in the NBA, as the Sonics have gotten fed up with their stadium, a decade old and made antique by the replacement of the Kingdome with new baseball and football stadiums. Spice was added to the fire when a group of investors from Oklahoma City bought the team; the New Orleans Hornets have done amazingly well in exile in the OKC, and the city has been angling for an NBA team (and the Penguins if they can’t get it). A move out of Seattle, the largest market with stadium woes I’ve talked about so far and with much more fan loyalty than in South Beach, would be a “Cleveland Browns” situation if there ever was one. The NBA has a history of being the only game in town; Orlando, Sacramento, Portland, and San Antonio boast NBA teams as their only traditional major league teams. But it doesn’t have more teams than those others, so they have to come from somewhere: San Diego and St. Louis are the largest old-definition metro areas without NBA teams, and in St. Louis’ case it’s the only traditional major league they’re missing. The STL ranks only behind Tampa Bay (another market with everything but the NBA) in Nielsen markets, followed by yet another MLB-NFL-NHL market, Pittsburgh (though that may not be for long, of course!), and finally Baltimore.

The NFL, of course, has the “LA Gap”, and like baseball, by the old definition Portland is the largest metro area without a team other than LA. Also like baseball, the NFL has Orlando and Sacramento as the only Nielsen markets ahead of Portland. The NFL, though, has teams in curiously small markets like Buffalo, Jacksonville, and Green Bay; they make up for it with a lack of a team in Milwaukee, no team in LA, and only one team in Chicago (baseball is the only traditional major league with two Chicago teams).