The members of the NCAA tournament selection committee must be tired by now of having people tell them how to do their job, but we can't resist offering one suggestion. The committee should adopt a policy requiring teams to finish in fifth place or better in their conference to be eligible for an at-large bid.
Every year teams that have mediocre or losing records in the bigger, richer leagues, such as the ACC, Big East, Big Eight and Big Ten, are awarded tournament berths. This results in the exclusion of teams from smaller conferences—the kinds of teams that have proved they belong in the field In pulling off the upsets that have helped make the tournament so popular. Two sixth-place finishers made this year's held: Wake Forest, which was 7-9 in the ACC, and Iowa State, which ended up 5-9 in the Big Eight. Fans of the NCAA tournament would have been better served if the selection committee had invited Wisconsin-Green Bay (14-2 in the Mid-Continent Conference and 25-4 overall) and Richmond (12-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association and 22-7 overall). Each was the regular-season champ of its league but was upset in its conference tournament.
Also-rans from the major conferences seldom distinguish themselves in the tournament. Indeed, not one of the 48 teams to reach the Final Four since 1980 finished as low as sixth in its conference, and only two ( Virginia in '84, LSU in '86) came in fifth and still reached the semifinals. At the same time teams from the lesser conferences have proved that they can play exciting and competitive basketball. When people refer to March Madness, a large part of what they're talking about is Cleveland State over Indiana in '86, Austin Peay over Illinois in 1987. Northern Iowa over Missouri in '90 and Richmond over Syracuse in '91.
This isn't to say that the smaller conferences deserve to have as many teams in the NCAA tournament as the larger, tougher leagues or that Wake Forest and Iowa State aren't dangerous teams. It just means that teams that play well in their conference all season but stumble in their conference tournament deserve consideration over teams that aren't even as good as half the teams in their own league.
Cinderellas helped turn the NCAA tournament into the cash cow that it has become. The committee ought to invite a few more of them to the ball.
After all the debate over whether or not Notre Dame should be in the NCAA tournament with a 14-14 record, the Irish were not given a bid. The women at Notre Dame, however, became the first team ever to get into the NCAA women's tournament with a losing record. They finished the regular season at 14-16 but earned an automatic bid by winning the Midwestern Collegiate Conference tournament....
March Madness seems to be taking its toll on coaches. Hawaii's Riley Wallace collapsed from an intense headache during the Rainbows' WAC tournament game against Utah, Louisiana State's Dale Brown was reprimanded by the SEC for his role in the Tennessee-LSU brawl during the league tournament (page 14), Idaho State's Herb Williams was suspended for a game by his school's president for having taken part in a brawl during the Bengals' win over Weber State on March 7, and Arizona State's Bill Frieder had words with a fan during the Sun Devils' loss at USC last Thursday....
The women of Bentley College, in Waltham, Mass., who are 30-0, need a victory over Pittsburgh-Johnstown this weekend to become the first team to make four consecutive trips to an NCAA Division II Final Four. Seven of the Falcons' top eight players were on the dean's list last semester....
No one can accuse ESPN's Terry Holland of being overenthusiastic. When BYU's Kevin Nixon nailed a buzzer-beating three-pointer from beyond midcourt to defeat UTEP in the WAC tournament's championship game, Holland's reaction was, "Goodness."