February 20, 2006

(Mid) Major Mistake

Mid-majors. Everybody loves them, right? Haven't we always been led to believe that the Cinderella story is what March Madness is all about? Well, I'm all for seeing the occasional David over Goliath in the NCAA Tournament, but what about the mid-major teams that don't really belong there in the first place? What about a team like last year's Northern Iowa team that shouldn't have even been selected and got blown out by 19 in the first round by Wisconsin? Should there be any backlash about overrated mid-majors?

Seems to me that there has been too much of an effort recently to hype up undeserving mid-majors for NCAA at-large bids. I’ll start off by saying that I don’t have a problem with mid-majors. If anything, I’m all for giving them some love if they deserve it. I grew up around A-10 and MAC hoops, and the quality of play in those leagues is better than some people realize. It's no coincidence that one or two of these mid-major teams always seem to end up in the Sweet 16. If a team in a mid-major league piles up a 14-2 conference record, beats a couple decent teams in the nonconference, but happens to stumble in the conference tournament, I have no problem with giving them an at-large bid.

With that said, take a look at the latest Bracketology on ESPN.com. Five teams are listed as “in” from the Missouri Valley Conference. FIVE. More than the ACC, Pac-10, and Big 12. Southern Illinois and Wichita State are each listed as #7 seeds. The Colonial Athletic Association has 2 teams. The WAC has 2. The Mountain West has 2. Conference USA has 2. In all, 8 at-large bids to mid-major teams.

Ten years ago, it would be notable if 2 mid-major teams got a bid to the Big Dance as an at-large team. Three mid-majors was unheard of. The thought of 5 teams going into the Big Dance from one mid-major conference was unfathomable.

Why has college basketball fallen in love with the mid-majors in recent years?

In my opinion, there are three reasons:

1) Thin-skinned committee – You know the committee. Bunch of old ADs from BCS conferences who love nothing more than a little face time on CBS. The last thing they want to deal with is a bunch of criticism from the media over their selections. So instead of picking the best 34 at-large teams, they try to appease everybody and throw a bone to the mid-major leagues. Let’s be honest, these people on the committee are going to get a lot more grief from the reporters out there if they snub a bunch of plucky mid-majors in favor of mediocre BCS conference teams. On the other hand, if they select the mid-majors, you won’t hear too many people screaming about an 8-8 Indiana team getting left out. The perception is that a team like Indiana that can’t even finish above .500 in its own league probably isn’t that good anyway, so you might as well just give the mid-major team a shot. The committee comes off looking great by doing this.

Solution: Grow a pair! If one of these committee members actually had any guts, he would point out that some of these mid-majors up for consideration would be lucky to finish 5-11 in a BCS conference. It’s true. Throw Missouri State or Southern Illinois in the Big East, and they’d be bringing up the rear with St. Johns, Providence, and DePaul. There’s too much size and depth in the Big East for those teams, and they would fall apart down the stretch.

Instead of some brutal honesty, the committee wimps out and picks the mid-major to avoid getting slammed for favoring the big school teams. Why won’t a committee member sack up and tell the truth? Seems to me that they’re afraid of being labeled as the oppressor holding the little guy down.

2) ESPN – If you don’t think ESPN has been partly responsible for all the mid-major hype in recent years, you’re kidding yourselves. ESPN is constantly hyping the mid-majors. I can’t really blame them for it. Between Bracketology and the Bracket Busters games and the Bubble Watch stuff, ESPN has a ton of programming/web content related to the mid-majors. By throwing some love to the mid-majors, they get increased interest from those fanbases. It's great for these mid-majors to get the exposure, and it's even better for ESPN. Now they have fans from these small MVC schools logging in every Monday to see what ESPN thinks of their chances to get in the tournament. By listing Southern Illinois and Missouri State as bubble teams, ESPN throws them into the conversation. College hoops fans know about the MVC teams because we’ve been hearing about them all year. If ESPN had never mentioned them, I highly doubt they even would be considered for an NCAA bid.

Solution: Not much you can do about this. ESPN has a ton of influence on sports, and it doesn’t appear that they are going to stop showcasing the mid-majors any time soon. As long as ESPN decides to list a bunch of undeserving mid-majors as “bubble” teams, the committee is going to have a tough time leaving all those teams out of the dance.

3) RPI ratings – Here’s the thing about the RPI. It can very easily be manipulated. I can’t believe more people haven’t caught onto this yet. Look at all these MVC teams. They all have quality RPI ratings.

Wichita State – 19
Missouri State – 21
Northern Iowa – 24
Creighton – 28
Southern Illinois – 34

Now let’s look a little closer. Who have these teams actually beaten other than themselves? Not a whole lot.

Wichita State has beaten absolutely nobody out of the league unless you consider a home win over Providence a quality win (most Big East teams sure as heck don’t). Missouri State boasts Oral Roberts as their best nonconference win. Yes, Oral freaking Roberts.

And then there’s Southern Illinois. The same Southern Illinois currently listed as a #7 seed on Bracketology. Home loss to Monmouth (who?) by 12. Lost to Alaska-Anchorage. Lost to Louisiana Tech at home. Lost to Indiana State at home by 9. Mid major apologists will point to their 18-9 overall record and strong conference performance. This just in. 18-9 in the Missouri Valley Conference isn’t good enough. Syracuse is 18-8 for god sakes, and I’ll be damned if Syracuse hasn’t played a tougher schedule than Southern Illinois.

Well, now you’re probably wondering “how do these schools have such high RPIs when they aren’t playing anybody?" Here’s the answer. The MVC has cracked the RPI code. They figured out how to manipulate the RPI to give their teams inflated RPI ratings. Everyone in the conference stays away from the really, really bad teams (+200 RPI), plays a bunch of teams in the 80-199 RPI range, and schedules a few teams from big conferences with good RPIs (of course they lose to them). That keeps the conference RPI up pretty high going into conference play.

Then they get into conference play, play each other, and the wins they get are all looked at as quality wins. By beating Wichita State, Creighton (twice), and Missouri State, Southern Illinois can point to 4 top 30 RPI wins. Are those great wins? Heck no, but the RPI thinks they are. At the end of the season, they can flash their sweet RPI rating and demand an at-large bid. The unassuming hacks in the media will shrug their shoulders and start to campaign for them. It’s a sham. The small conferences get together and meet about this stuff, and it’s become a road map to get a bunch of teams on the NCAA bubble.

I watched Cincinnati manipulate the RPI for 10 years, so I’ve seen how it works for awhile now. Huggins readily admitted that they scheduled a bunch of 100-150 RPI teams instead of +250 RPI teams because it made a huge difference in the final RPI numbers. They used to scout the mid-major leagues and schedule home games with the projected best teams in those leagues. In the end, a home win over Northern Iowa meant about the same to the RPI as a home win over Arizona or Oklahoma. UC would go the entire year without any marquee wins, but you’d look up at the end of the year and see them sitting in the top 10 in the RPI. The committee never caught on. UC got #2 and #3 seeds year after year that they didn’t deserve. You could count on them losing in the second round game because they had no business being seeded where they were.

Truly amazing how dumb the NCAA is at times.

Solution: Get rid of the RPI already. I can’t believe this thing is still being used as a tool for selecting at-large teams. It is no longer a good indicator of how good you truly are. Instead, it shows how skilled you are in statistics and accouting.

I say forget the computers. Take a look at the team’s schedule, and figure out who they beat and who they lost to. If a mid-major dominated its league and has a couple decent nonconference wins, then they should get consideration. If not, then tough luck. Blind faith in the RPI rating makes absolutely no sense at all.

Conclusion: Enough with the mid-major affirmative action. I can’t believe there hasn’t been more of a backlash from college basketball fans. As a Notre Dame fan, it chaps me to see a team like Southern Illinois in the tournament because I know we would roll them. Stick ND in the MVC, and we’d probably be leading that conference. Stick Southern Illinois in the Big East, and they might as well change their name to Providence.

February 19, 2006

Rename the JACC after Mike Brey

I figured we needed to get the ball rolling on this to honor the legendary Michael Brey


Spread the word!

Go Irish. Beat UConn!

February 07, 2006

Subliminal Message

He thinks, therefore he coaches.

The prestige of his own video game validates his coaching prowess, joining the pantheon of immortals like John Madden, Bill Walsh and Coach K.

A stickler for fundamentals.

Comes equipped with his own fashion statement.

Oops, I meant this fashion statement. The Phantom of the JACC.

Will raise the roof off the JACC and be a cult hero for the Leprechaun Legion.

Can take a charge for Homeland Security.

Experience with former Irish legends.

Knows what it takes to be a champion.

Did I mention he knows how to win?

Wanna hear a funny joke? Notre Dame's Big East record.

Oh snap!

Blowing the whistle on NFL refs

I’ll preface this by saying that I normally could care less about officiating. I’m not big on blaming the refs for a loss, or cursing out the ref after a questionable call. I don’t know their names, and I don’t care to know their names. I’d prefer to not notice them during a game. In fact, my definition of a good official is an official who I don’t notice throughout the game. If he’s staying out of the action and letting the players play, he’s got my seal of approval. For the most part, the refs in college sports do a good job of that, so I usually don’t have much to say about officials.

The NFL? Now that’s a different story. How can you not notice the NFL officials? They have become the focal point of the NFL experience in recent years. As everyone already knows, there’s been a lot of discussion about the officiating throughout the NFL Playoffs and especially following the Super Bowl. Whether or not you thought the Seahawks would have won the game without the costly flags, there’s no denying that the officiating in the game had a major impact on the Super Bowl. Not only did some big plays get called back, but I felt like it was hard to get into the game with so many penalties and stoppages of play. Don’t get me wrong. Pittsburgh was the better team, made the plays they needed to make, and deserved to win. I was rooting for (and betting on) the Steelers, but thought Seattle got the raw end of the deal on some devastating penalties.

Was the officiating poor in the Super Bowl? Technically it was not. Those officials are lackeys for the league office. They are told what to call and what not to call, and I’m guessing their calls on the pass interference and holding penalties were technically correct. HOWEVER, are the league policies on holding and pass interference completely ridiculous? You bet.

If you’ve watched NFL games over the last five years, you’ve probably noticed that more and more games are being dominated by yellow flags every Sunday. Personal fouls on the sideline, roughing the passer, helmet to helmet, block in the back, holding, pass interference. The list goes on and on and on. Seems like every other touchdown drive is spurred on by a huge penalty, and punt returns are constantly being called back.

I understand that penalties are penalties. I don’t blame the officials. They are taught to throw the flag on certain occasions, and if they are in position to see a penalty, then they have to throw that flag. That official who called the push off on Darrell Jackson had to make that call. He was standing right there, and he was following the rules of the league. You can’t really blame the official even if you thought the call was cheap. If anything, I’m advocating for some policy changes in the NFL league office to lessen the impact that officials have on the outcome of the game. As it stands now, officials dominate the action of the game. Constant flags, constant reviews, meetings, controversial calls. The referees slow down the action, and take away momentum. Most importantly, they are taking the game out of the hands of the players. The few chances that players have to make spectacular individual plays (knocking a deep ball down, a big punt return, throwing a big block on a reverse) are the plays that are the most penalized in the NFL. That shouldn’t be the case.

Here are three changes that I would love to see implemented by the NFL (and college for that matter).


Why are there so many ticky tack holding and block in the back penalties these days (especially on special teams)? Here’s the primary reason. Has anyone been to an NFL game recently?! There are like 37 officials on the field during the game! You got line judges, back judges, backfield guys, endzone guys. You don’t really notice them on tv, but look for this next time you attend an NFL game. There are officials EVERYWHERE. When you have an official behind the linebackers, an official in the backfield, and two officials on the sideline, you think they might get a little antsy to call a holding penalty once in awhile? There are too many eyes looking for penalties, so calls that don’t need to be made are being called.

Think about your average punt return. With seven officials standing there looking over the action, there is literally one official for every block that is made on the play. You wonder why there are so many “block in the back” penalties called on punt returns? There’s your reason.

I say cut the officials down to 3 or 4, and let the players play. Tell the smaller crews to focus on the important things (spot of the ball, sideline, and fumbles), but keep the flags in the pockets unless something obvious comes to your attention. It hurts enjoyment of the game when every decent punt return gets called back for a holding call.


What is the #1 complaint that NFL fans have about officials these days? Hands down, the answer is the questionable pass interference on a deep ball into the endzone. You know the play. QB tosses up the 45 yard bomb from midfield, both the receiver and the defender go up for the ball, the defender nudges the receiver, ball falls incomplete, yellow flag falls to the ground, team gets the ball at the 1 yard line. Absolutely infuriating if you’re the fan of the team that just got penalized. The other team basically got a free 45 yards for a questionable call on a ball that probably wouldn’t have been caught anyway.

If that’s the biggest complaint from NFL fans and coaches, why the heck can’t you review that play? Tell me what is a bigger play between these two events:

1. 8 yard pass to the sideline where the official ruled the player only had one foot

2. 45 yard pass interference penalty putting the ball on the 1 yard line

Pretty sure that answer is #2, and yet only #1 can be reviewed. If pass interference penalties make such an impact on the game, why not allow a coach to challenge the penalty and have it reviewed? What’s wrong with kicking the call up to the booth to determine if the defender really interfered with the receiver? I’ve never understood why a play as big as a pass interference penalty can’t be reviewed.

If you allow the replay, maybe the official can take a second look it in slow motion and determine whether the contact by the defender really warranted a pass interference penalty. Maybe he’ll see that the receiver pushed off, or that both players were bumping each other, and decide to reverse the penalty call. Maybe he won’t. At the very least, it should be an option. I bet if you pooled all the NFL refs about it, they’d probably support review of penalties.

This change needs to happen. I’m guessing it isn’t easy to make that call in the end zone as an official, so there should definitely be a support system in place to help these guys out.


If you ever listen an ex-linemen or linebacker talk about holding, they will tell you an official could call a holding penalty on every single play. Every one of these guys is clutching and grabbing throughout the game.

If that’s the case, then how are officials able to pick out 5 or 6 instances where they feel the need to throw the flag? Here’s my take. They aren’t. It’s almost as if they are throwing flags at random. The whole thing just seems very subjective to me. It’s especially frustrating when you watch the replay and don’t see an obvious hold.

Here’s my solution to the problem. Eliminate holding penalties. I’m not saying that you can’t call a guy for a hold. Put the egregious holding penalties under the “unnecessary roughness” umbrella or something like that. In other words, if a guy tackles a blitzing linebacker before he gets to the QB, throw the flag. If a special teams blocker shoves a gunner to the ground from behind, hit him up for “unnecessary roughness.” Otherwise, just let it go. A 10 yard penalty is a huge drive killer, so that type of penalty should only be for something really bad.

Holding penalties have gotten way out of hand in recent years in the NFL. NFL teams probably have reached the point where they have to scheme for 1st and 20 situations to deal with the constant holding penalties. That hurts the game.

There you go. Make those three simple changes to the league rules, and I think there would a lot fewer controversies and a better overall flow to the game.