Friday, March 9, 2012

MAC gets it right with new bracket

The Mid-American Conference changed the setup of its bracket for this year's men's basketball tournament, and the MAC made the right move.

In this year's bracket, the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds received byes to the quarterfinals, and the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds were automatically advanced to the semifinals.

The bracket might be a little confusing at first, but the concept is clear: Reward the top teams in the regular season with the best opportunities to win the conference tournament and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

For mid-majors, conference tournaments are supposed to be a last chance for all teams to see if Cinderella's slipper fits. But leagues including the MAC and the Horizon League have started unbalancing their brackets in favor of the teams that fared better in the regular season.

This is a smart move. League commissioners can't take sides among their teams, so I'll say it for them: If you're going to be a one-bid league, you need to send the team that has the best chance of winning to the NCAA tournament. There's too much money and publicity at stake to end up with an 16-win team that got hot for one weekend as your conference representative.

Leagues like the MAC face this every year. Take the Colonial Athletic Association, for example.  The CAA has had two Final Four teams in the past six tournaments. But as of Friday afternoon, it only has its automatic bid (Virginia Commonwealth) and Drexel, which is on the bubble as an at-large possibility.

Or the Horizon League, in another instance. Even with Butler playing in the national championship game the past two seasons, the HL's automatic bid is Detroit, which is projected to be a 15 seed by ESPN. No other team is even close.

Teams from the CAA and the Horizon do their part in March Madness once the tournament starts, but their leagues aren't strong enough top to bottom to assure them of an at-large bid on a yearly basis.

Making an unbalanced bracket makes the regular season more important. The MAC should be applauded for rewarding Kent State, Ohio, Akron and Buffalo.

It might not make MAC Madness at The Q as unpredictable, but it's not as maddening as watching a middle-of-the-pack team get a one-bid conference's NCAA berth.

- Howard Primer


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