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This is progress.
The Mid-American Conference announced Thursday a complete overhaul of its men’s and women’s basketball conference tournaments. To recap: The top two seeds in the tournaments will receive triple byes to the semifinals. The three and four seeds get a double bye to the quarterfinals, and seeds 5-12 will have to win five games to get the league’s automatic NCAA tournament bid.
Is it fair? Of course not, especially if the difference between the fourth and fifth seeds comes down to a tiebreaker.
But fairness isn’t the issue here.
It hasn’t been the issue in college athletics for a long time, not with Texas and ESPN combining to form a network that projects to be so profitable, an entire major conference – the Big 12 – is at Texas’ whim. Not when megaconferences of 16-20 teams look like a plausible scenario.Not when you can’t go six minutes without hearing about another scandal at another university. Fairness in college athletics is as real as a car powered by lollipops.
The MAC office has spent the past year waking up to that fact. In the past year alone, commissioner Jon Steinbrecher secured three bowl agreements, added a couple of backups, kept Temple around for the time being and added UMass to the fold for football. All positive steps at a time when mid-major conferences are supposed to be approaching the endangered species list.
Thursday was another step in the right direction. Even though it wasn’t in football, basketball has been a glaring problem for the conference for the better part of a decade.
This plan puts the MAC on a path to basketball relevancy by protecting the top teams in the conference, those most likely to earn a higher NCAA tournament seed and have a better chance of advancing.
Forget about making the regular season more relevant. That’s how the MAC is selling it. The most important thing for the conference is that it increases the chances of a second team getting an NCAA berth, because the earliest chance for a possible at-large team to lose comes in the semifinals, which doesn’t look bad on paper.
When it comes to NCAA tournament selection, it’s all about protecting your best assets. This accomplishes that goal.
Steinbrecher proved that not only is an adult in charge of a mid-major conference, but that he understands what’s important in today’s college climate.
The more teams the MAC gets into the NCAA tournament – and the more that win once they get there – means the conference gets more units from the $10 billion-plus contract between the NCAA, CBS and Turner Sports. That means more money for each team in the MAC. Imagine what each team can do if it can afford that extra recruiting trip, or retain an important assistant coach by adding to his salary.
Sure, you’ll see Steinbrecher’s tire tracks on the backs of the seven teams that have to win five games in eight days for a title. Last season, Akron was the MAC’s sixth seed and made a surprise run to the title. That looks almost impossible in the new format.
It was a great story for Akron, but not the MAC. The Zips were a No. 15 seed in the NCAA tournament and easily was bounced by Notre Dame in the first round. So long, extra money.
The MAC went with a plan that works. Protect your a$$et$.
• John Sahly is the sports editor of the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at email@example.com.