Zags to Gottlieb: Tell Your Power-Six Buddy Club to Grow a Pair
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Doug Gottlieb needs to spend some time in Spokane.
In Mark Few's office. When he's trying to put together a season schedule.
Gottlieb has been around the college hoops scene long enough to to know it's a precious few Power Six conference members who have the guts to schedule a so-called 'mid-major' team on the latter's home court. This is an issue that isn't even news anymore. It's been an issue for a long time. It's still an issue now.
So its incredulous that an insider of Gottlieb's stature would inanely utter during the CBS NCAA Tournament Selection Show that he disagrees with Gonzaga's Number One bracket seeding because "it's hard to get a sense of how good they are, considering their schedule."
The Zags have a strong reputation for assembling the most challenging non-conference schedules possible. Every year, announcements abound that they'll travel the land to face big-name programs. As well, if Gonzaga can't get one of them to test the Kennel, they'll arrange a game on a neutral court.
What else in the name of Dr James Naismith does Gottlieb expect the Bulldogs to do? Predict the future? It was reasonable to expect each of the five Big XII opponents they faced this season to be factors for selection in the Big Dance. Illinois proved to be a worthy foe, and they deserved an ironic bump in their RPI as a result. Like the Illini, and possibly due to the influence of Jud Heathcote's connection as a Gonzaga season ticket holder, Michigan State also manned up and was rewarded for their effort. It is notable that both of those victories were regarded as upsets.
Mid-major programs have more than held their own in recent episodes of March Madness. Regular season schedules didn't seem to impede the likes of Butler, Virginia Commonwealth, and George Mason once they got into the brackets. The trick for these schools and their brethren is simply to get an invitation. For them, it's a crucial matter of budgets and futures.
Maybe the NCAA is finally taking notice. Mid-majors, with their roster continuity, now seem to increasingly benefit from the one-and-done policy that can turn Power Six programs into revolving doors. The Gonzaga dynamic is at the forefront of this trend, too, what with its top ranking in the polls becoming a prominent talking point in media trending cycles.
Still, more needs to be done.
Here's a suggestion: the NCAA could create a set of competition standards that rewards teams for scheduling a broad spectrum of non-conference opponents in reciprocal agreements (ie- home-and-home contracts over multiple seasons). A 'competition clearinghouse' could be created to monitor a procedure whereby qualified requests for scheduling agreements would result in a grading scale that becomes a criterion for the Tournament Selection Committee. For example, if Murray State offers a deal to Indiana that meets clearinghouse requirements -- such as formally responding to a Power Six team's one designated scheduling slot per season for this purpose -- and the Hoosiers refuse, the Racers would gain strength-of-schedule points while Indiana would lose some.
Obviously, other considerations would need to enter into the equation, with financial equity being at the top of the list. Media rights have long since become the prime revenue generator for all major sports, and the NCAA rakes in mega-bucks for hoops. Surely a solution could be found with normal effort and negotiation.
There's no reason to believe this would be a cumbersome system, either. Modern technology facilitates data collection and dissemination, and the NCAA already utilizes complex formulas such as the RPI in its determinations, even though this scale itself is a prime culprit, as its very presence promotes scheduling incest among Power Six schools and gives them a rationale for avoiding outsiders.
In all aspects of society, regulation is required to protect the little guy when the power elite cannot be bothered to do so itself. College basketball is a mega-billion-dollar industry. Equal-opportunity scheduling is a key element in a program's well-being. It's time for the governing body, ie- the NCAA, to take action.
Best of all, a plan like this would put an ultimatum in front of Gottlieb and his ilk: either give deserving mid-majors their due or shut the hell up.