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Thoughts on Expansion (Big 10 and and NCAA)

This week feels interminably long as we wait for Purdue to play again. Tomorrow night's game at Minnesota can't come soon enough because there is only so much to discuss. Really, how many articles can you read about a supposed #1 seed or the alleged lack of media respect. I have toned down my voice about the latter, but with the former we can only do one thing: win. As long as we keep winning it will come, while a loss likely ends those hopes at least temporarily. Of the four remaining games, we can likely survive a loss tomorrow night the easiest because it would be in a tough road environment. Other than that, we should win at home over a team we have already beaten and we should absolutely beat a pair of sub-150 teams to finish the year.

There is plenty of other discussion out there, however. First, you have the recent call to expand the NCAA Tournament. I'd like to go on record as saying this is an absolutely horrible idea. Being from Indiana, I have seen what happens when people try to mess with already fine tournaments. You get results like the watered down, bastardized tournament that currently exists for high school teams here. If you're going to make changes, I suggest the following:

Eliminate the play-in game - This is demeaning because it stats a clear message of, "Neither of you belong in the real tournament, so we're going to belittle you and further reduce your chances of a first round win." Both of the teams in the play-in game earned their way in by winning conference tournaments, so why make them play one more game to get into the full bracket? There is also a new conference, the Great West Conference, that does not have an automatic bid like every other conference. Eventually, they will want in too. I say eliminate the play-in game, let in the Great West, and eliminate two at large bids so you have 32 at large teams and 32 automatic qualifiers.

Of course, I just shrank the bubble and caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth. That's fine though, because I can make the bubble selection process even easier with the next step.

Eliminate at large teams with sub. 500 conference records - This is a personal pet peeve of mine. It seems like every year there are at least 2-3 major conference schools arguing that they should be in. They seek the pity of, "but we played a tough schedule." Well, so what? You didn't win enough. In my view, no team that can't even manage to win as many conference games as it has lost deserves to get in. It is a simple rule, easy to enforce, and it would make more room for worthy at large candidates from other conferences. I don't think I am alone when I say that I would rather see a more deserving mid-major that had maybe one or two slips within its conference over the 7th place Big 12 team that finished 7-9 in conference play. I would much rather see a grateful mid-major play its balls off in round one than have some sub.500 major conference team go through the motions. Under these new guidelines, the following teams on ESPN's Bubble Watch would be eliminated if the season were to end right now:

Georgia Tech, Connecticut, Seton Hall, Cincinnati, South Florida, Notre Dame.

Don't want to bitch about this new rule? Well, go win more games. It is that simple. I can't take any of those six teams seriously as an NCAA team, but they still have time to get to .500 or better. It also increases the importance of the regular season instead of decreasing it as a 96 team field would do. These teams would also still have the back door of winning their conference tournaments and getting an automatic bid. That leaves them less room to bitch because they would still control their own destiny. If you can't win your way into the field you don't deserve to be there. Period.

Give "Locked" teams the option of skipping the conference tournament - This final point is the most controversial and the least likely to be passed, but I like it. Say you're Purdue. It is blatantly obvious that we are going to get an at large bid. We even have a shot at a #1 seed. If we win the next four games and really cement our place, do we want to risk that #1 seed or even injury in an essentially meaningless opening game in the Big Ten Tournament?

This would make the conference tournaments more exciting in my mind. Imagine teams choosing to pass in order to avoid injury knowing they are securely in the field. There would be great intrigue and suspense every year as to who is coming and who is not. Don't you think Cincinnati with Kenyon Martin wishes this rule was in effect when they were a sure #1 seed, but he broke his leg in the conference tourney? It would also open it up for those bubble or less teams, giving them a chance to steal the auto-bid with less competition. The big conference might like it even more then because they could add an unlikely team in.

Pity the coach it backfires on too. Inevitably there would be one team that would think it is safe and sit out, only to be left out cold on selection Sunday. Digger's head might explode if it happened to a Big East team.

Random Thoughts part 2: Big Ten Expansion

I haven't said much about this since the conference made the announcement it was looking at expansion. Part of the reason is that it has been beaten to death on other blogs. Another, larger part is that there is really nothing to talk about until the Big Ten says, "We're adding x school." Anything else is mere speculation.

I do think it is going to happen though. There has been too much talk about certain schools being interested and the mere fact the Big Ten is considering it means it probably will happen. We haven't seen this since the ACC raided the Big East a few years ago, and even then it wasn't as big of a fiasco then they went after three teams.

First off, I think it is only going to be one school. I am not a fan of the 3 to 5 school scenarios that would create some gigantic Midwestern mega-conference. Look at the imbalance the Big East has in basketball right now. How in the holy hell can you accurately name a conference champion when you play 3 teams twice and the other 12 once? There is no possible way you can fairly balance that schedule. The Big Ten can't figure how to protect its basketball rivalries now. It would be worse with 14 or 16 teams.

Second, adding one school can make divisional alignments nearly perfect in both football and basketball. The additional school is likely coming from east of the conference or west. With two six team divisions the scheduling becomes easy: You play your five divisional opponents every year, then rotate home and home with three from the other division every two years. You can do the same in basketball" Play everyone in your division twice (10 games) Then three at home, three on the road in the other division (6 games). That shaves two games off the schedule and allows for better non-conference matchups.

There would be enough flexibility to protect many of the rivalries by putting teams in the same division. Some people might complain about having Michigan and Ohio State in the same division in football to protect their rivalry, but Michigan hasn't been too concerned with protecting it lately, so who cares? The Big 12 has Texas and Oklahoma in the same division and they get along fine. It seems like there are only a handful of great rivalries, be they in football and basketball, that need to be protected:

Michigan-Ohio State (football)

Wisconsin-Minnesota (football)

Indiana-Purdue (basketball)

Minnesota-Iowa (football)

Illinois-Indiana (basketball)

Michigan-Michigan State (both)

I think we can make those happen.

So who joins? Right now, my money is on Missouri or Pittsburgh. Missouri is practically wetting itself trying to say they are interested. They give good East-West Divisional alignment. Pittsburgh does the same and makes Penn State a better fit. Texas would be a huge splash and would like boost the conference baseball profile as well. That is an outlier, but it is the rare school that would boost almost every sport across the board, not just football.Of course, we could add Ball state so IU wouldn't finish last anymore.

So those are my random thoughts. Mostly it is a 1,500 word rambling on a boring Tuesday afternoon. It's not going to change anything, but it is fun to dream.