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Sunday, February 13, 2005

You Know It When You See It

Andy Katz posted a good piece on about what a mid-major really is. And instead of agreeing with conventional wisdom (which gives precious little direction as to what a mid-major is), Katz uses some more precise (if still somewhat rough) metrics as to how to define a mid-major. It's good reading, and it's a good topic to discuss, especially at this time of year.

I've always thought a high-major program to be a school that is in the top 8 or so conferences and that isn't in the cellar of those conferences. For example, an easy choice for a high-major school is Illinois. Michigan might not be as ready a choice because the program has fallen since the ill-advised days of the Fab Five, but they're still a high-major. Why? They're not a doormat, and they're a player or two away from being a Top 25 team. Then you get to Penn State and Northwestern. The former clearly was a high-major under Jerry Dunn about four years ago when they went to the Sweet 16. Now, they're a doormat, and they're a mid-major. At best. Northwestern has finished in the middle of the Big Ten, so they fall into high-major territory, but, then again, they haven't appeared in the post-season since about the time that Mary Tyler Moore was on the Dick Van Dyke Show. Perhaps, then again, they're a mid-major.

That's my general sliding scale, except for one thing. I think that the big-conference schools who aren't high majors sometimes denigrate the common usage of the term mid-major. Why? Because to me, a mid-major school is one that you don't want to play if you're a big-time school, especially at their site or in a tournament. For example, if Penn State is a mid-major, are they worthy of the same respect as, say, Pennsylvania? After all, the former is in the Big Ten, but they're a football school, and the latter not only has over 1,500 career wins to its program's credit, but also was picked as one of the Top 16 programs (that means that they came in 16th) of all-time.

The answer is no. Pennsylvania is a mid-major in every sense of the word, a feisty program that has a great coach and gets good recruits. They are an upset waiting to happen every time they play a school from one of the Top 8 conferences, and they play in the best arena in the country. Penn State? You cannot say the same about them. Their program just doesn't generate the same amount of respect. Princeton, although having an off year, falls into the same category as Pennsylvania. Temple's John Chaney reluctantly scheduled them to fill a void in his fall schedule, then vowed never to schedule them again. After getting whipped at Princeton 22 years ago, Coach K will never play in Jadwin Gym again. He'll play Princeton in Cameron, but not in New Jersey.

Why does that happen to the classic mid-majors? Because the "big-time" programs have nothing to gain by beating a Penn or Princeton, to their way of thinking, than if they beat say a school from another Top 8 conference. So, in their minds, the mid-majors come geared up to play as if the game were their NCAA Final Game. They'll point to Bucknell's win over Pitt at Pitt when Pitt was ranked in the Top 10 as an example of what they don't want to have happen to their team.

So they'll schedule a few tough non-conference games and then games against Army, Savannah State and Prairie View.

And that's where their logic is flawed. My guess is that the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee would much prefer all teams to play the toughest non-conference schedules possible than to go on the Syracuse Diet and play cupcakes, twinkies and bon-bons until conference play starts. And that would mean a high-fiber diet of tough-to-digest "mid-majors", such as the Pennsylvanias, St. Mary's, Princetons, Niagaras, George Washingtons, Mid-American Conference favorites and schools in that realm. Unfortunately, that type of diet is a long ways away for most big-time teams.

Andy Katz is probably right that there are three tiers of teams, and, then, that some conferences have teams that can slide up to higher tiers or down to lower ones. The whole discussion is an interesting one, but, even if the semantics are resolved, the issue of why the big-time teams don't schedule better games against Mid-Major competition before their conference seasons start remains.

Call them Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 teams, call them Mid-Majors, call them whatever you want, but one thing remains certain. Come NCAA tournament time, we're all rooting for the Mid-Majors and beyond to slay the giants in the first several rounds of the NCAA Tournament. After all, for every Illinois, North Carolina, Washington, Kansas and Syracuse there is a Coppin State waiting to take care of business.


Blogger Sports Junky said...

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check it out if something like this interests you.
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They just released IPOS for College Hoops this week, so there are alot of good deals there.

Hope that helps

2:18 PM  

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