March 4, 2010

The Importance of the "Mid Majors"

Before I go on my tirade, I'd like to explain the term "Mid Major" to anyone who is confused. There are six "Major" conferences: Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big12, Big East, Big 10, Pacific 10, and Southeastern Conference (SEC). Then there are the rest. 26 conferences: America East, Atlantic 10, Atlantic Sun, Big South, Big Sky, Big West, Colonial Athletic Association, Conference USA, Great West, Horizon League, Ivy League, Metro Atlantic Athletic, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern Athletic, Missouri Valley, Mountain West, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot League, Southern, Southland, Southwestern, Sun Belt, Summit (Badlands), West Coast, and Western Athletic - As well as 6 schools that have no current (very subject to change) conference.
When you turn on ESPN, what do you see? Highlights from last night's "big game"? Was that game between two teams you've seen apparel for around campus or around the town? Are these teams on ESPN nearly every night? Have I narrowed the "big game" down to Duke, Purdue, Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse, or UCLA? But those teams represent hardly a third of the basketball conferences that are being played in! On those teams, how many players do you think will go to the pros? Maybe two or three on each team? IUPUI has had one (1) ever. And yet, I find myself grimacing at the thought of going to IU to watch Tom Crean and Tubby Smith duke it out for free (tickets via a Big Ten Network giveaway). Last night when Kansas and Kansas State played, I rolled my eyes and turned on UC Santa Barbara vs UC Irvine - yes, on Pixelvision. What has caused a Big Ten-raised boy to turn into a Mid Major-loving man?
When I applied for college, I had some requirements. First, and most obvious, I needed a school that would benefit me in the long run. Second, I needed a city environment that I could truly love. Third, and unsurprising to people who know me best, was a competitive Division-1 basketball program. Because of the first two requirements, my journey lead me to look at Eastern Michigan University and IUPUI, of which I chose the latter. IUPUI has been competitive in the Summit League the entire decade, including a trip to the tournament in 2003 and a first-round draft pick in the spring of 2008. This year they are the #2 seed in the Summit League Tournament but have twice as much probability of winning than anyone else competing.
That doesn't necessarily explain my hatred for the "big" guys, the "Major" teams. So here I go. Five (5) reasons why I hate "Major" basketball.
1) One-and-dones. Eric Gordon, Kevin Love, Kevin Durant, (probably) John Wall, et cetera and so forth. All of them came to NCAA Basketball for one year, and the sport is not better for them coming. I personally think they are all idiots. They are all ruining the sport. I would much rather have a player like George Hill: He left a year early, but came back to earn a degree from Kelly School of Business here at IUPUI. It's still possible to go to the NBA and earn a college degree.
2) "Mid-Major players aren't as good." IUPUI's Robert Glenn has edges on Evan Turner in Points per 40, Offensive Rating, FG%, True Shooting %, Effective FG%, Blocks per Game, Offensive Rebounds per Game, and Fewer Turnovers per Game. But which player is being considered for National Player of the Year? Do Assists per Game make Turner the better player? No. Mid-Major players have more the play for (see #1), more to accomplish, and more to prove, and they're doing it. They just don't have the money to sign a huge contract to splatter their face all over 'Sports Nation' or 'SportsCenter'.
3) "Mid-Major teams aren't as good." There are 347 schools in Division-1 Basketball, and 247 of them aren't given the proper due they deserve. There are currently seven (7) Mid-Major teams ranked in the AP Top 25, none of which have been given any talk of winning a championship. Usually people see Mid-Major teams as the ones who get wrecked by a #1 or #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but in reality they are just as capable. Last year alone there were "upsets" by Siena, Cleveland State, Dayton, and Western Kentucky (all over "Major" schools) alone. Xavier, Gonzaga, and Memphis all made it to the Sweet 16.
4) "Mid-Major teams don't have enough money to be good." Now this one I have a big contention with. True, they don't have the same funding. IUPUI is struggling to try to find enough money to spend their band and cheerleaders to the conference tournament. But where else could a team like the New Jersey Institute of Technology be heralded for a 9-17 season after going 0-29 (2007) and 1-30 (2008)? Where else could so many people love and admire someone like George Hill for more than a stupid dance he made up?
5) "Mid-Major teams don''t play other big name teams or have enough big wins." Really? What happened when Portland played Oregon, UCLA, and Minnesota? True, they're not all national title contenders, but did the whole universe STOP because they lose to "lowly" Portland? Unfortunately, yes. This year people are all screaming about the next "George Mason" because "omg lyke evry1 iz havin a down yeer". (Sorry for the Valley Girl speak, but that's what I hear when they talk.) What about other teams having an UP year? Or, I don't know, maybe they're JUST AS GOOD as the others? Why is a 27-3 New Mexico behind a 23-7 Ohio State? Why is a 26-4 Butler (who didn't lose in Horizon League play) behind a a 22-6 West Virginia or a 22-7 Michigan State? If teams beat who they schedule, what's the problem? In football, Boise State proved everyone wrong when they beat Oklahoma a few years ago. George Mason did the same in the 2006 tournament.
Really, I'm just tired of hearing about the same teams over and over with no respect for the GAME. "OMG NORTH CAROLINA SUCKS THIS YEAR." Okay. New Mexico doesn't. How about BYU, or Butler who is on a crazy win streak of 18-games heading into the Horizon Tournament? Maybe Richmond, Xavier, and Charlotte running tough on top of the A-10? Akron and Kent State are duking it out for the MAC title at 12-3 each. Morgan State, Murray State, UTEP, Jackson State, Oakland, South Dakota, and Cornell all have one (1) loss in league play. "LOOK OUT FOR A NON-BCS SCHOOL TO MAKE THE SWEET 16." Thanks idiots. But I'd rather watch the CBI or CIT or hell even the NIT. At the majority of those teams represent college sports the way they were meant to be played.

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