published Thursday, March 15th, 2012

SoCon looks to boost NCAA tourney bids

It's become tradition for fans and teams to gather on the Sunday before the NCAA tournament to watch the selection show.

The Mocs held its parties in 2005 and 2009 at Big River Brewery. Davidson held its party on campus on Sunday.

No other SoCon squad bothered to gather. It's become tradition too that the Southern Conference will send only its tournament champion to the Big Dance.

The SoCon is simply a one-bid league. It owns the oldest conference tournament in the country. Yet it's never sent two teams to the NCAA tournament in the same season.

"It's an unfortunate statistic," commissioner John Iamarino said. "Doing the things that we can control, we're working toward getting another team in.

"It's got to be a commitment on the part of the schools."

Coaches, administrators and conference officials have pondered how the SoCon can earn another invitation -- and the check that comes with playing in each game.

There is no collective agreement other than a team will have to earn it.

"That's the $64,000 question," Wofford athletics director Richard Johnson said. "I think there are as many differing opinions as there are of makes and models of domestic cars.

Getting two teams into the tournament, or having a team win multiple games raises the profile of the conference. National media invaded the town of Davidson in 2008 and mentioned its laundry service.

It also adds to the conference coffers.

The SoCon earned $2.16 million in the NCAA tournament last year according to BusinessInsider.com. Each conference was awarded $240,000 for each game one of its teams played from 2005 through 2010. Five teams from the SoCon went one-and-done in that stretch while Davidson played four games in 2008.

"There's nothing that would help our financial situation or image as much as success in men's basketball," Iamarino said. "Whether that's getting multiple teams or winning multiple games, those things help in tremendous ways."

Other small conferences have been able to send multiple teams to the tournament and did so this year as well.

The Missouri Valley had Creighton and Wichita State earn bids. The Metro Atlantic Conference had Loyola (Md.) earn the automatic bid with Iona getting an at-large berth. Yet 20 conferences across the country sent only their automatic qualifier to the tournament.

Iamarino said he's talked with Horizon League commissioner John LeCrone and Missouri Valley commissioner Doug Elgin for their advice.

"They almost always say there's not much we do," Iamarino said. "It's up to the schools. That's how it gets done."

Davidson coach Bob McKillop, who is in Portland preparing to play Louisville today, said on Monday that he will propose a scheduling change at the SoCon spring meetings that will reduce the conference schedule to 16 games so schools can play more out-of-conference games.

Johnson, Wofford's former coach, mentioned scheduling only non-conference teams with an RPI in the top 150.

Georgia Southern coach Charlton Young said recruiting and raising the talent level could be the answer to getting a second team into the dance.

"All of the programs have improved the level of recruiting, and the better our players, the better our league is," Young said. "I think if our league continues to shoot our sights high, we'll win more and more."

All agreed winning is the only answer.

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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