Wiedmer: NCAA bids won't seem overly fair

Wiedmer: NCAA bids won't seem overly fair

March 11th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Tennessee fifth-year senior Cam Tatum tried to sound hopeful regarding the Volunteers' near-invisible NCAA tournament chances following their overtime loss to Ole Miss in the SEC tournament quarterfinals Friday night.

"Anything could happen," Tatum said. "If it was meant to be, it will be. We'll just wait until Sunday and see where we end."

Barring a sudden surge of conscience and fairness, it's going to end badly for Tennessee, Ole Miss, quite possibly Mississippi State and at least a handful of non-SEC schools when the NCAA Selection Committee announces its 68-team field for the 2012 men's tournament.

All of those teams - and a host of mid-majors - have legitimate reasons to be both bitter and regretful about their fates. The Vols, for example, did lose to a 1-9 Austin Peay team at home in mid-December.

But all of them will have a renewed reason to despise the Big East, especially if ESPN "bracketologist" Joe Lunardi is correct about that league receiving 10 bids total, or nine of the 37 at-large berths.

Read that again. Nine of 37, or basically 25 percent of the at-large berths.

Where's a court injunction when you need it? Yes, I know No. 2 Syracuse is great. And Georgetown's dangerous. And Louisville and Cincinnati - which both reached Saturday night's Big East tourney final - are peaking.

But where's the fairness when defending national champ Connecticut and Seton Hall are both expected to dance despite going 8-10 in their league? Heck, Tennessee not only beat UConn in January but finished 10-6 in the league, winning eight of its final 10 games, including its SEC tourney loss to Ole Miss.

What did UConn do? Well, it lost nine of its final 12 before winning its regular-season finale at home, then finishing 2-1 in the Big East tourney with a quarterfinal loss to Syracuse.

NCAA Selection Committee chair Tim Hathaway, a former UConn athletic director, said earlier this week, "We look at the body of work, front to back, beginning to end. We put them up against other teams that are being considered for selection. That's the bulk of the work. That's why we spend so many days and hours here. We make sure we compare all the teams, irregardless of what conference they come from."

If that's true, there is no way to compare UConn and UT and leave the Vols out. Just don't expect that to happen.

But regardless of which 37 at-large teams ultimately join the 31 automatic qualifiers today at 6 p.m. during the Selection Show, a few things need to change with the committee in the year ahead.

No. 1 - Do away with teams with losing conference records making the field. If you want the regular season to count for anything, how can you hand an invitation to your sport's most prestigious event to a school that couldn't finish with a .500 record in its own league?

Yes, there can be extenuating circumstances. So put in a hardship clause. If either your head coach or one of your starters is lost for 40 percent of your league games but has returned before the conference tournament begins, the committee can wave the non-losing league mark if it can be proven the player is completely healthy and the team is playing tournament-worthy ball since his return.

No. 2 - Follow the S-Curve. One of the reasons to become the overall No. 1 seed is the reward of drawing the weakest No. 2 and weakest No. 4 and weakest No. 8 for your regional games.

That's supposed to be your reward for being the best of the best. It's also supposed to allow a committee that may be struggling with who to make the fourth No. 1 to place the top No. 2 against them and feel like everyone was treated fairly if the seeds hold throughout the event.

But 2011 Selection Committee chair Gene Smith - the embattled athletic director at The Ohio State University - freely admitted that his committee paid little attention to the S-Curve or the RPI.

To not follow the S-Curve is to give the appearance that CBS is calling the shots, which may be the way it should be given the billions - yes, billions - it has invested in the event. But if CBS is going to draw up the brackets, at least have the guts to admit that and get on with it.

No. 3 - Place the little guys as close to home as possible during the first two rounds. They don't get there often and most of their fans don't have the money to travel long distances.

Otherwise, we'll leave Vols fans with these words from coach Cuonzo Martin after the Ole Miss loss.

Asked why UT should be in the Big Dance, he replied: "[Won] eight of the last 10. Ten-and-six in the SEC."

If only his Vols had finished 8-10 in the Big East.