NCAA slams door in face of Cinderellas

March 18, 2009|By DAVID STEELE | DAVID STEELE,david.steele@baltsun.com

The Members-Only Club is open for business. Only the right people with the right connections get in. You rabble, you unwashed masses, you "mid-majors," stay over there. You and you, OK, you look all right, but just you, not your friends.

Is this what March Madness is supposed to be all about? Forget what it's supposed to be. This is what it is, more and more every year, just as it is in college football. Introducing basketball's version of the Bowl Championship Series, or at least the closest basketball has come to it.

From the 12 so-called mid-majors getting at-large bids in 2004, to George Mason going to the Final Four in 2006, the NCAA has danced backward. Four at-large bids this year, as compared with 18 just from the Atlantic Coast, Big East and Big Ten, in which winning half your conference games - or fewer - gets your hand stamped.

And there's little chance it will turn back. Not from the way selection committee chairman Mike Slive described it to reporters afterward. He might as well have said, "Let them eat cake," but actually he said that the teams complaining about exclusion simply have to bolster their schedules. The Gonzagas, Butlers and Xaviers, he said, have "found a way to play games and to create a resume that resonates with the committee."

Slive seems to think that scheduling is a one-way activity and that the big schools are eager to play tough, rising mid-major programs. Why would the big schools risk their own tournament resumes under anything but the strictest, most lopsided guidelines? What's in it for them? Their resumes already "resonate" because they play in the big conferences. Minnesota's 9-9 Big Ten record resonates. Maryland's 7-9 ACC mark resonates. Saint Mary's, not invited into either conference and stuck playing, and beating, just the teams on its schedule? Didn't resonate.

The student-athletes at the left-out schools might want to check Catch-22 out of their campus libraries.

As Slive said to illuminate his point: "This tournament is about the best teams. It's not designed to social-engineer college basketball."

By that criterion, it appears it is not designed to have 343 Division I programs, either, just 75 (the total constituting what everybody now routinely calls the "BCS" conferences). It's no longer clear what is preventing the powers that be from saying bye-bye, mid-majors, and take all those UMBCs and Morgan States with you.

Social engineering, bad. Living in the right neighborhood, good. It's the American way, and we don't mean American University.

If you're powerful enough to enforce rules that only you benefit from, congratulations. However, the only fans who dive into March Madness for the drama of one mega-conference's seventh-place team against another's sixth-place team are fans of those teams. The rest of the known world is in it for the Cinderellas, even if it's just for the concept of Cinderellas.

The selection committee, though, is putting up a velvet rope, just as the football people did. And in each case, Cinderella is on the wrong side of it.

Listen to David Steele on Mondays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursdays at 9:30 a.m. on Fox Sports 1370 AM.

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