"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Monday, February 25, 2019

Mid-Major Madness?

In recent years there has been a decline in the number of at-large bids given to mid & low-major programs. To figure out why, I dug into the makeup of the Selection Committee since the field expanded to 68 in 2011. There was a significant reduction in the number of bids earned by smaller conference starting in 2014. So what happened to cause this change? Quite simply, the Big East.

Prior to 2014, the Selection Committee's 10 members included 4 representatives from high-major conferences & 6 members from mid & low-major conferences. When then Xavier Athletic Director Doug Bobinski stepped down after chairing the 2013 Selection Committee, he was replaced by Creighton Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen. In the pre-realignment world, this would have been a shift from an A-10 representative to a Missouri Valley representative. While the conference affiliation was different, the representation was a like-for-like mid-major change. But because Creighton joined the Big East in 2014, it changed the makeup of the Selection Committee, resulting in 5 high-major representatives & 5 mid/low-major representatives.

For purposes of this article, high-major refers to the American, ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12, & SEC. Those leagues were built on a foundation of programs considered high-major when conference realignment began

The following table shows by year the number of high-major representatives, the number of low/mid-major representatives, the affiliation of the Selection Committee Chairman, & the number of bids given to teams outside the 7 leagues listed above.

Year High-Major
Mid/Low Major

2011 4 6 Ohio State (High Major) 7
2012 4 6 Connecticut (High Major) 11
2013 4 6 Xavier (Mid-Major) 11
2014 5 5 Wake Forest (High Major) 6
2015 5 5 Utah State (Mid-Major) 6
2016 5 5 Oklahoma (High Major) 3
2017 5 5 Michigan State (High Major) 3
2018 5 5 Creighton (High Major) 2
2019 4 6 Stanford (High Major) ?

From 2011-2013, mid & low-major leagues averaged 9.7 at-large bids per year. That coincided with a Committee makeup that included 6/10 representatives from outside those high-major leagues. That changed in 2014 with an even split of 5 high and 5 mid/low-major representatives. For two years, the Committee placed just 6 teams from outside the high-major ranks in at-large positions, though one of those years featured a mid-major Committee Chairman. The past three years, the average has been just 3.3 bids from outside high-major leagues.

What does that mean? The high-major leagues were voting as a bloc which allowed them to dominate the bids. The most egregious year was likely 2017. While the Selection Committee gave 4 bids to mid-major schools, they placed all four in two games, 7/10 matchups that resulted in all four teams being eliminated on the first weekend in defeats to 2-seeds.

In the years when the lower leagues had a majority, we saw some great mid-major stories. VCU's 2011 run to the Final Four, La Salle's Sweet 16 in 2013, & the Wichita State team that knocked off La Salle on their way to their own Final Four run in 2013. Mid-majors were given chances & made the most of them, despite arguments that they didn't have the caliber of resume the high-major schools did.

Bruce Rasmussen stepped down from the Selection Committee after chairing it last year & the old balance of power between conferences has been restored. The 2019 Selection Committee will return to 4 high-major & 6 mid/low-major representatives. So who will that benefit? My expectation is we likely won't have a good sense until the conference tournaments. If teams like Buffalo, Belmont, Lipscomb, & New Mexico State will be in better shape if they don't get automatic bids, while at least a few of the MAC, A-10, SoCon, Ohio Valley, & Mountain West will likely be multi-bid leagues. And if the last spots in the field come down to schools like UNC-Greensboro, Murray State, Butler, & Nebraska, don't be surprised if it's the traditional one-bid leagues placing at-large bids in Dayton. After all, that's exactly what happened to the VCU team that went from Dayton to the Final Four in 2011.

Here's the updated S-Curve:

1-Seeds: 1-DUKE, 2-Virginia, 3-GONZAGA, 4-Kentucky
2-Seeds: 8-Tennessee, 7-Michigan, 6-MICHIGAN STATE, 5-North Carolina
3-Seeds: 9-HOUSTON, 10-MARQUETTE, 11-Kansas, 12-Purdue
4-Seeds: 16-Maryland, 15-Wisconsin, 14-Texas Tech, 13-LSU
5-Seeds: 17-Iowa State, 18-KANSAS STATE, 19-NEVADA, 20-Virginia Tech
6-Seeds: 24-Mississippi State, 23-Louisville, 22-Iowa, 21-Florida State
7-Seeds: 25-BUFFALO, 26-Villanova, 27-WOFFORD, 28-Cincinnati
8-Seeds: 32-St. John's, 31-Baylor, 30-Mississippi, 29-WASHINGTON
9-Seeds: 33-BELMONT, 34-Texas, 35-VCU, 36-Syracuse
10-Seeds: 40-Auburn, 39-Tcu, 38-Utah State, 37-Oklahoma
11-Seeds: 41-Ohio State, 42-Florida, 43-LIPSCOMB, 44-Temple
12-Seeds: 50-UNC Greensboro/49-NC State, 48-Arizona State/47-Alabama, 46-Minnesota, 45-Seton Hall

Last Four Byes: Florida, Temple, Seton Hall, Minnesota
Last Four In: Alabama, Arizona State, NC State, UNC Greensboro
First Four Out: Furman, UCF, Clemson, Butler
Next Four Out: Murray State, Nebraska, Creighton, St. Mary's

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