Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, gather round. It's almost March, the biggest time of the year for college basketball. And yet, I was struck by a thought the other day that doesn't apply to the most popular time of the year for college basketball; no, I had a seemingly brilliant idea for November, and for the little guys. Those tournament darlings from conferences that fight for multiple years. Interested in knowing more? Good, read on. Pay attention Mid Major conferences, this one's for you.
In recent years, one of the more popular early season events in college basketball are the cross-conference showdowns. The ACC-Big Ten showdown has garnered national attention, as some of the better teams in the nation go head to head in the early parts of the season. Conference challenges provide solid early season competition, as well as resume-building opportunities for participating teams. And yet, the only two mid-major conferences that participate in a conference challenge are the Missouri Valley and the Mountain West. To me, it seems like the other mid major conferences that garner national attention are missing out on an opportunity here. I propose that such conferences - for the purposes of this post: Conference USA, Atlantic 10, Colonial Athletic Association, Horizon League, Western Athletic Conference and the West Coast Conference - should work together to follow in the footsteps of the Mountain West and the Missouri Valley.
The conference challenges that I believe will best benefit the schools involved are: A10-CAA challenge, Horizon-CUSA challenge, and WAC-WCC challenge. Geographically the WAC-WCC makes the most sense, but it also makes sense in that realistically each season only about two or three schools have cases for an at large bid. With BYU incoming, the WCC should look for chances for decent resume wins. The WAC needs to find a way to get teams other than Utah State involved in the at large discussion. Combine the two, and you have a solution to the problems. Sure, a win over New Mexico State might not seem like that big of a deal, but I'm sure St. Mary's would take it instead of a win over lowly Chicago State. So while these two conferences might not be ripe with tournament contenders, the teams that are such contenders could do worse than playing each other in an early season tournament. In fact, right now some of them are (looking at you Utah State).
During any given season, teams from these eight conferences (including the MWC and the MVC) have a handful of opportunities to impress the selection committee: early season tournaments, one or two games against prominent big conference schools, two or three conference matchups, and bracket busters. Now for some that might be enough, but I doubt that any at large team would balk at the idea of handing them one more chance to add a resume building win. Cross conference challenges between the mid-major schools would provide just that. What do they have to lose?
I'm sure that these schools really do enjoy beating up on weak teams that do nothing to help their tournament chances, but I think that the conferences need to step in here for their own good. These six conferences need to man up, pair up and set up some conference challenges. Do it for the little guys, those underdogs fighting for their tournament lives. Sure, maybe one win over another fringe tournament team wouldn't quite catapult them into the tournament. But what do they have to lose, prime real estate on the bubble? Ask Virginia Tech how valuable that really is. There's no prize for almost making the tournament. As much as I love the NIT, national attention is gained or lost there. These conferences need to place teams in the tournament. And they need to start working together to create more possibilities to do just that.
So those are my brief thoughts on what some more mid major cross conference challenges would bring to the table. Questions, comments or concerns? Leave them in the comments or FM me, and I'll respond. Who knows? I might even turn them into a less cool version of a mailbag and amend the changes into this very article.