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Berry Tramel

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March Madness: Mid-major ranks are thinning

by Berry Tramel Modified: March 19, 2014 at 5:15 pm •  Published: March 19, 2014
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Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart yells from the bench during the first half of their NCAA tournament third-round college basketball game against Indiana in Portland, Ore., Saturday, March 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)
Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart yells from the bench during the first half of their NCAA tournament third-round college basketball game against Indiana in Portland, Ore., Saturday, March 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

In the previous two NCAA Tournaments, the selection committee was awfully egalitarian. In both 2013 and 2012, the committee handed out 11 of its 37 at-large bids to mid-majors. Schools outside the power conferences.

This year, the committee went back in the other direction. Only seven of the 36 at-large bids went to mid-majors.

But give the committee a break. The mid-majors are drying up.

Major conferences are swallowing up elite mid-majors. The Big East splintered, the old line basketball schools bought their name back and reformed the Big East. By adding Butler, Xavier and Creighton, three of the most successful mid-majors. The new American Conference, the football remnant of the old Big East, includes Memphis and Temple, other successful mid-majors.

The mid-majors have consolidated. Schools like George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth, both of which have made recent Final Fours out of the Colonial League, have joined the Atlantic-10. The A-10 this year received five of the seven mid-major at-large berths: VCU, Dayton, George Washington, Saint Louis and Massachusetts.

The only two other mid-major bids came from the Mountain West (New Mexico) and the West Coast Conference (Brigham Young).

Leagues like the Missouri Valley and the Colonial and the Horizon have been harmed or even gutted by conference expansion.

Now, the committee still could have given mid-majors a better shot. Teams like Southern Miss (RPI in the 30s), Louisiana Tech (a victory at Oklahoma) and Wisconsin-Green Bay had just as good an argument as Iowa and North Carolina State, and provide a lot more color to the field.

But again, the mid-major ranks are thinning.

Here are the mid-major at-large bids of the last 14 years:

2014: 7 of 36

2013: 11 of 37

2012: 11 of 37

2011: 7 of 37

2010: 8 of 34

2009: 4 of 34

2008: 6 of 34

2007: 6 of 34

2006: 8 of 34

2005: 9 of 34

2004: 12 of 34

2003: 10 of 34

2002: 7 of 34

2001: 5 of 34

So it goes in cycles. And the mid-majors were on the upswing, until their ranks were diminished not by opportunity, but by conference expansion. If Creighton still had been in the Valley, and Xavier in the Atlantic-10, and Memphis in Conference USA, all likely would have made the field. That would make 10 mid-major at-larges, and things would look more equitable. It will take awhile for the adjustments to kick in. We’ll see if the mid-majors can replenish their ranks.

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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