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Vol. 45, No. 3 • April 2008 • .pdf version
By ANDY KATZ / ESPN
Doug Elgin is hot. The Missouri Valley Conference commissioner is peeved over his league only getting one bid to the NCAAs, losing out on Illinois State getting an at-large bid.
His anger isn't just directed at the NCAA selection committee, but at the media and bracketologists for not backing Illinois State or at least thinking rationally.
The NCAA Tournament isn't supposed to be a reward for a job well done. Illinois State had a very good season, finishing second to Drake, winning 25 games and taking the Redbirds back to the top of the Valley.
The NCAA Tournament selection committee's charge is to get the best remaining 34 at-large bids. Elgin should know that. He was a member of the committee. This isn't some sort of socialist working group here. As much as the NCAA tends to lean toward that political thinking of every school having a say in the legislation, the tournament is supposed to be about the best teams, outside of the lower-profile conferences getting automatic qualifiers, to compete for the national title.
Elgin hangs his argument on numbers, on how high the Redbirds were on the RPI. That's great. But that doesn't translate into quality wins when none of the Redbirds' wins came against NCAA Tournament teams.
But there is another issue here Elgin takes on and that's the laziness of the national media. He was upset that the media, specifically ESPN, wasn't watching enough Valley games to get a true picture. That's probably true, although I can tell you that a number of our analysts do watch quite a few games from various leagues, especially Jay Bilas and Fran Fraschilla. I would trust their knowledge on these teams in comparison to plenty of others.
But, let's remember one thing: These are opinions. The only opinion that matters is the collective vote of the selection committee. The committee can be criticized for not putting in Illinois State or Arizona State, but ultimately it is a vote. There are 10 votes, unless a member has a vested interest in a school or conference, so the democracy here should be taken seriously. If Illinois State or Arizona State didn't garner enough votes for an at-large candidacy, then there's nothing more to do than realize you lost and move on to the next season.
Elgin is passionate about his league. He should be. But there also has to be a sense of reality, too. Commissioners from Conference USA and the Atlantic 10 haven't been complaining that their schools, whether it's this season in the case of C-USA or in previous years with the A-10, didn't win enough games or at the right time to garner a bid.
Our influence in the public at times can be measured. Sure, we have a voice on television, on radio and on the Internet. But the influence in the committee room is probably negligible.
We are just covering the tournament, and the expectation that we do more is simply misguided.
The tournament has become one of the best sporting events in the country. The process of selecting the teams still needs to be tweaked, but the transparency that has been slowly coming is improving the situation. Putting a camera in the room and hearing all the discussions on each team wouldn't be fair to the individuals on the committee. But lashing out at the system because a team didn't prove itself against enough quality competition seems a bit off.
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