NCAA Tournament: College hoops full of mid-majors masquerading as major schools

College basketball is not six major conferences, trying to be brought down by giant-killers. College basketball's class system is about six, eight, 10 blue-blood schools, with anywhere from 80 to 140 schools belonging in the mid-major category.
by Berry Tramel Published: March 23, 2013
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San Diego State beat OU on Friday night in the NCAA Tournament. A great victory for a mid-major.

A day earlier, Oregon beat OSU in the NCAAs. Also a great victory for a mid-major.

That's right. The Ducks are a mid-major. And the team they beat was a mid-major. I know, it sounds silly to label Phil Knight U. and Boone Pickens State as mid-anything. Those two athletic departments have more money tied up in uniforms than North Carolina A&T spends on its entire athletic budget.

Sounds silly. But it's so.

College basketball is not what we've been led to believe. It is not six major conferences, trying to be brought down by giant-killers.

College basketball's class system is about six, eight, 10 blue-blood schools, with anywhere from 80 to 140 schools belonging in the mid-major category. Iowa State is a major but Xavier is not? Missouri is a major but Nevada-Las Vegas is not? Clemson is a major but Virginia Commonwealth is not?

Kansas and Duke and Louisville and North Carolina and Kentucky and Indiana and Connecticut and maybe a few others are in the House of Lords. The rest of the Big 12 and the Big Ten and the ACC and SEC and a host of others are in the House of Commons, with schools we like to call Cinderellas.

The NCAA championship is not a land run, open to all. Six schools have won the previous nine NCAA titles. That's no better shared wealth than in the parity-deprived NBA, which has produced six title franchises in the same nine-year span.

But deep runs into the Big Dance? Memphis annually is as good a bet as Michigan. Butler as good a bet as Maryland.

And the current March Madness waltz once again is proving that these labels are bogus. Colorado State over Missouri. Creighton over Cincinnati. Wichita State over Pitt. La Salle over Kansas State. Temple over North Carolina State.

These aren't upsets. You want an upset, you have to go to Florida Gulf Coast over Georgetown. That's a game with a beanstalk or a slingshot. But not Ole Miss-La Salle.

Through 44 NCAA Tournament games, we've had 16 matchups of a traditional major-conference team against what we've come to identify as a mid-major. The mid-majors' record is 6-10. And that counts games against the heavyweights — Kansas-Western Kentucky, Louisville-Colorado State, Michigan State-Valparaiso, Indiana-James Madison.

Sure, sometimes the so-called mid-major leagues are duds come March. The vaunted Mountain West went 2-3 in its openers. So did the Big 12. And while the Big Ten went 6-1, the Atlantic 10 went 5-0.

Mid-majors have busted through the Final Four barrier. George Mason made it in 2006. Butler in 2010 and 2011. VCU in 2012.

Coaches have recognized the lack of difference. Gonzaga's Mark Few, Butler's Brad Stevens and VCU's Shaka Smart all have rejected the advances of big-moneyed suitors.

Even the NCAA basketball committee, which long has protected the big-money schools as much as possible, is losing the mid-major distinction. This year alone, the committee seeded a little guy No. 1 (Gonzaga), No. 3 (New Mexico) and No. 4 (Saint Louis).

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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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