Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Mid-Major Life

It ain't exactly the SEC. It ain't exactly the MAAC.

The Southeastern Conference is a major force. It has three teams in the AP Top 25, including Alabama, traditional basketball powerhouse Kentucky, and the defending national champion (and current No.1) Florida Gators. Seven of its twelve teams are in the at-large conversation. Even its worst teams have overall records better than .500. The SEC is big-time college basketball. Always has been. Always will be.

The Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference, on the other hand, barely registers on the basketball consciousness. It has league-leading Marist...and that's about it. None of its ten teams have even gotten a sniff of the Top 25. None of them are in the at-large conversation. Two have more than 20 losses. The MAAC is an automatic-bid conference: if you don't earn the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament by winning your conference tournament, you're not going. You might not even make the NIT. You know those commercials that talk about how most NCAA student-athletes "will be going pro in something other than sports?" They're talking about the MAAC.

Then there's our conference. No team is ranked in the Top 25, but three teams are listed among "Others Receiving Votes" - and our fans are excited about that. Four of our twelve teams have 20 wins. Three have 20 losses. Those four 20-win teams are all in the at-large conversation, but they're perched precariously on the bubble; one slip and they're gone. It's almost a certainty that they won't all go to the NCAA Tournament. Depending on how the conference tournament shakes out, there might not be any at-large teams. Sure, last year one of our teams got an at-large bid and made a magical run to the Final Four, but that was last year. This year, that team isn't even in the conversation. In our world, you just don't know - and unless you earn the automatic bid, you won't know until Selection Sunday.

Welcome to the Colonial Athletic Association, baby. Welcome to the mid-major life.