Can Colorado Go Home Again to Big 12?

This week the Big 12 formally tasked commissioner Bob Bowlsby to begin the expansion process, with time being of the essence. It would not be a surprise that a decision is made before the end of the year.

The only question: whether the Big 12 will be its eponymous self again or go for two more to become the Big 14?

Bowlsby’s phones have been ringing off the hook for sometime now but the courting has only intensified by all the schools vying to join the ranks of the Power 5. This may be the final chance for the current have-nots to fulfill their champagne wishes and caviar dreams.

But there’s a team that the Big 12 ought to consider, one that used to be in the Big 12. Colorado, whose exit in 2011 helped kick off a mass exodus that nearly imploded the conference, might not be totally against the idea of coming back. Its marriage to the Pac-12 hasn’t exactly been a blissful one.

When the Buffs left  the Big 12 was on the verge of collapse. Nebraska was headed out to the Big Ten, Texas A&M and Missouri soon departed for the SEC. Texas and Oklahoma were being courted by the Pac-10, which considered poaching nearly half of Big 12’s teams.

When then-commissioner Dan Bebee made the enticing deal to get Texas to stay, Colorado became the Pac-10’s fallback option and soon it signed up, along with Utah, at a time that conference was about to launch a new television network by its ambitious new commissioner.

But fast forward five years. The Pac-12 Network is an epic failure. Counting third-tier TV rights, Pac-12 teams will earn less per year than any other Power-5 conference and that gap will grow only wider with the ACC scheduled to launch its own network (bankrolled by ESPN) and the Big 12 next in line if the expansion process goes well.

From the Pac-12’s perspective, the feeling about Colorado is pretty much mutual. While Utah has become a legitimate title contender in the rough Pac-12 South, the Buffs have gone 14-48 in their five years in the conference, with 4-8 in 2013 their high-water mark. They have won a grand total of five Pac-12 games in as many years, and lost their last 20 against South Division foes.

While Colorado became a national power in the late ’80s and early ’90s under Bill McCartney by successfully recruiting in Southern California – reeling in considerable talent including 1994 Heisman winner Rashaan Salaam – it has never felt like a right fit culturally with the Pac-12.

CU joined the Big Eight in 1947 until that conference became the Big 12 in 1996. Its natural rival had been Nebraska with many memorable games against NU over the years, including an epic 62-24 beatdown in 2001 that should’ve propelled the Buffs (not the vanquished Huskers) into the BCS national championship game.

Sure, Colorado had reasons to bolt in 2011, but there are just as many reasons for it to return to the conference now. How realistic, though, is the scenario for the Buffs to go back to the Big 12?

It’s probably unlikely, but not impossible. First, the Pac-12 does not have an exit fee for members to leave the conference but it does have a television grant of rights for all existing members through 2024, meaning anybody leaving would have to forfeit their TV rights money until then. But like all contracts, both parties may negotiate their way out of them.

The bigger obstacle might be that as much as Colorado hasn’t exactly been an asset to the Pac-12, the conference doesn’t have any real viable option to replace it. USC and UCLA will oppose any other California school (i.e. San Diego State) joining the conference, likewise Utah with BYU, and Boise State and UNLV are non-starters because of their academic standards.

Don’t take too much from Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott’s recent meeting with the University of Houston. That was nothing more than a courtesy call that helps the Cougars to leverage the Big 12 (exactly what was in it for the Pac-12 is a bit unclear). The Pac-12 is not going to venture into Texas unless it can reel in, well, the University of Texas.

So Colorado’s returning to the Big 12 remains a remote possibility, but it’s something the university’s leaders must at least consider. Their worst nightmare would be for rival Colorado State – a hot candidate to join the Big 12 – to end up in that conference and making more money and getting better exposure.

Isn’t that what college athletics are really all about?

 

Winners and Losers of the Offseason

The college football season might’ve ended in January, but the competition never ends. Just because there’s no more football games, it doesn’t mean the fights stop – not on the recruiting trail, not in the boardrooms, and certainly not on Twitter.

This offseason has been as news-filled and entertaining as any in recent memory, in part thanks to the lightning rod of a coach at the University of Michigan. Jim Harbaugh just can’t help himself when it comes to making headlines as he embraces each day with an “enthusiasm unknown to mankind.”

We also have plenty of balance sheets and tax returns to dissect. So without further ado, here are the winners and losers of the 2016 offseason:

WINNERS

Big Ten: Jim Delany did it again. The Big Ten commissioner just completed the biggest media rights deal in college sports history by nearly tripling the conference’s television revenue. The Big Ten reached agreements with FOX, ESPN and CBS for a total of $2.6 million over six years, at over $400 million per season. And that’s not counting the additional $8-$10 million the Big Ten Network brings in for each school every year.

Jim Harbaugh: The Michigan coach has taken on all his enemies (real or imagined) and won every battle this offseason. He drew the ire of the SEC by bringing his team to Florida for a week of spring ball and out-maneuvered both the SEC and ACC by getting the NCAA to stand down on a proposed satellite camp ban. And on top of all that, he’s reeled in a top-five ranked recruiting class with his Wolverines now poised to make a playoff run.

UCLA: Perhaps the surprise of the offseason is that L.A.’s “other school” landing the largest apparel deal in the history of collegiate athletics. UCLA signed with Under Armour for $280 million over 15 years, outstripping the bigger brand names that also recently signed new apparel contracts:

  • Ohio State (Nike) – $252 million for 15 years
  • Texas (Nike) – $250 million for 15 years
  • Michigan (Nike) – $174 million for 11 years
  • Notre Dame (Under Armour) – $90 million for 10 years

Larry Scott: Even though the Pac-12 is getting lapped in revenue by other Power 5 conferences (more on that later), its commissioner is laughing all the way to the bank. According to the tax returns for the 2014-15 fiscal year, Scott raked in more money than any of his counterparts:

  • Pac-12 (Larry Scott) – $4.05 million
  • SEC (Mike Slive) – $3.6 million
  • ACC (John Swofford) – $2.7 million
  • Big Ten (Jim Delany) – $2.6 million
  • Big 12 (Bob Bowlsby) – $2.6 million

LOSERS

Pac-12: While Scott laughed all the way to the bank, his conference is lagging behind other conferences in revenue, partly thanks to the failed Pac-12 Network that still struggles to gain an audience four years into its existence. Once the Big Ten’s new media rights deal kicks in, expect the gap between the conferences to grow to more than $10 million per year per school. The distribution each conference school received in the 2014-15 fiscal year:

  • SEC – $32.7 million
  • Big Ten – $32.4 million
  • ACC – $25.8 million
  • Pac-12 – $25.1 million
  • Big 12 – $23.3 million*

* does not include third-tier rights, such as $15 million Texas received from Longhorn Network

Greg Sankey: The SEC commissioner’s predecessor Mike Slive built a juggernaut by playing nice and working behind the scenes. Sankey, however, has been front-and-center in several public spats, chiefly with Harbaugh over Michigan’s spring trip and satellite camps. But so far he’s lost both of these PR battles and as a result there has been unprecedented acrimony heaped on the SEC by other conferences tired of playing second fiddle to its interests.

The Have-nots: Whereas the Power 5 conferences are hauling in record amounts of cash, the Group 5 schools continue to struggle to stay afloat. For financial reasons, the Sun Belt is booting Idaho and New Mexico State out of its conference, with the former making the decision to drop down to FCS play. Conference USA, ravaged by numerous realignment raids in recent years, signed a new TV deal that will pay its member schools less than half of the $1 million per year they were getting under the old contract, with some of their games to be carried by BeIN Sports.

The Nouveau riches: Scandals erupted at both Baylor and Ole Miss, two schools that seemingly came out of nowhere to become powerhouses in the college football landscape. Now we know both cut corners to get where they are. The Bears were forced to cut ties with coach Art Briles and the Rebels may yet be hit with a multi-year bowl ban by the NCAA. Both programs may face a long road to rejoining college football’s elite.

Beware of College Football’s Nouveau Riches

What’s the old adage that says if it’s too good to be true it probably is? That applies absolutely to college football, with regard to its nouveau riches.

Just this week, we witnessed the implosion of Baylor’s program after it was discovered that it had been sweeping serious sexual assault allegations under the rug for several years. This followed months-long investigation of Ole Miss and its various NCAA violations that reached a crescendo on NFL Draft night when Laremy Tunsil admitted that he took money from the school’s football staff.

What do these two programs have in common? They were both college football’s ne’er do wells that were transformed into national powerhouses overnight. Their ascent in the sport’s hierarchy was sudden and stunning, but always viewed with suspicion.

For good reason, it turned out.

Before Art Briles’ arrival in Waco, Baylor has had exactly one 10-win season in over 100 years of playing football. It was always a minnow in the old Southwest Conference before barely squeezing into the Big 12 in 1996. Grant Teaff, who averaged a 6-5 record and won the conference title twice in his 21 years, was considered the patron saint of the program.

Enter Briles, a wildly successful Texas high school coach with a penchant for offensive innovation. Until he was fired last Thursday, Briles had racked up six consecutive winning seasons at Baylor, including four 10-win campaigns. He mentored the school’s first Heisman Trophy winner in Robert Griffin III and was instrumental in getting the $266 million McLane Stadium built on campus in 2014.

Ole Miss’ history is only slightly different. The Rebels were a powerhouse program in the ’50s and early ’60 under Johnny Vaught in the segregated South. They came close to winning the national championship three times and went to a bowl game in 15 consecutive seasons – no mean feat considering that there were only a handful of bowls every year at that time.

But that’s ancient history. Until Hugh Freeze arrived in 2012, the Rebels last had a 10-win season in 1971. Just like Briles, Freeze is a former high school coach who nearly instantly transformed the program. He reeled in top recruits and turned Ole Miss into a formidable presence in the cut-throat SEC West. The Rebels beat Alabama in consecutive seasons in 2014 and ’15 and made it to a New Year’s Six Bowl game in each.

It is now obvious that neither program was able to find such sudden success without cutting corners. At Baylor, it was shielding players with questionable character even in the face of serious allegations. At Ole Miss, it was rampant NCAA violations that include (but not limited to) providing players impermissible benefits and arranging for fraudulent ACT tests.

To be sure, these are not the first nor will be the last schools to sacrifice principles for instant glory. For the also-ran programs in the Power 5 conferences, there’s too much money in college football and the temptation is too great. There will be others who decide to risk the consequences by taking a shortcut.

What happens next will somewhat dependent on what happens now to these two programs.

By firing Briles, Baylor has decided that it must risk blowing up the football team to save whatever integrity is left of the Christian private school. It has already lost recruits and it likely will experience at least one season of turmoil as an interim staff is running the team for 2016. Long-term, the Bears may very well return to irrelevance as they were pre-Briles.

Ole Miss, on the other hand, decided to self-impose laughably lenient penalties that include no postseason bans and a reduction of only 11 scholarships over four years. Check that – it did impose a postseason ban, but it’s on the women’s basketball team.

If the NCAA accepts this farce, then cheating at major conference football program not only won’t be curbed, but will proliferate. In 2012, Miami was hit with a nine-scholarship reduction over three years after having self-imposed a two-year bowl ban. It would be unthinkable that the Rebels would be allowed to carry on without some sort of postseason sanctions.

Even with harsh penalties after the fact, the scourge of improprieties in big-time college athletics will never be eradicated. The only way for foul play to occur less often is if the people who run these universities – the presidents and administrators – clearly understand what is the mission of their institutions and act accordingly.

Don’t the let tail wag the dog.

NCAA at a Crossroads

The NCAA is under siege and there’s no way out of this mess.

On Thursday, the NCAA Board of Directors took the unusual step of reversing a satellite camp ban approved by the representatives of the 11 football conferences. The decision, however, was no surprise. It came after it was revealed that both UCLA’s Dan Guerrero and Texas State’s Larry Teis apparently voted against the wishes of the majority in their respective conferences, which would’ve caused the move to ban the camps to fail.

On top of that, the Department of Justice began looking into the camp ban last week. With mounting criticism from the public and media and the feds sniffing around, the NCAA simply decided it didn’t need another headache.

But while the NCAA fended off one crisis for the time being, it has problems on multiple fronts. Let’s count the ways, shall we?

* Wealth gap

On Thursday, the University of Idaho announced that it will move down from FBS to FCS, rejoining the Big Sky Conference in 2018. It becomes the first football program to move down from the highest division in over two decades.

And it might not be the only one mulling that move. Both Eastern Michigan and Massachusetts, facing mounting athletic department deficits, are under pressure from their own faculty to consider taking similar steps.

Idaho’s announcement came just days after the Big Ten is reported to be getting a massive new TV contract with Fox Sports that will pay the conference $250 million annually for half of its first-tier media rights. By the time the Big Ten is finished negotiating, each conference school is projected to receive more than $40 million per season through 2023. And oh, Michigan just inked its $173 million apparels deal with Nike, joining Ohio State, Texas and Notre Dame as schools receiving a new windfall this year.

All this makes the gap between college sports’ haves and have-nots all the more yawning. While the name brand powerhouses work on athletic budgets north of $100 million per year, their non-power 5 brethren must make do with just a few million.

This economic model is not sustainable for half of the FBS schools. A permanent split may be coming sooner than you think.

* Kangaroo court justice

This week the NCAA sent North Carolina an amended notice of allegations with regard to the university’s decade-long academic fraud case. By all interpretations, the NCAA intends to go easy on UNC’s money-making men’s basketball and football programs while dropping the hammer on the women’s basketball program.

This would fulfill the prophesy of the late Jerry Tarkanian, who spent nearly his entire career jousting with the compliance bureaucrats: “The NCAA is so mad at Kentucky it’s gonna give Cleveland State another two years of probation.”

But the NCAA’s uneven hand in doling out punishment will be facing a real test in a real court very soon. Former USC assistant coach Todd McNair’s defamation lawsuit against the NCAA is cleared to proceed in California courts, which likely will expose the organization’s many shortcomings, not to mention cost it millions.

The McNair case is a result of the NCAA’s – as considered by most – unjustly harsh sanctions levied against the Trojans in the Reggie Bush scandal. At this point, there is nearly little doubt that the NCAA will choose to settle with McNair instead of airing its dirty laundry in front of a real judge. But in any event, NCAA jurisprudence is now just an oxymoron to anyone who’s paying attention.

* Pay for play

And all this comes after the NCAA already lost a landmark decision in federal court. But the Ed O’Bannon case may be proceeding to the U.S. Supreme Court as the issue of whether and how much the NCAA must pay its student-athletes remains to be settled. For now, the NCAA wants to get off the hook of having to pay the plaintiffs $42.3 million in court costs.

Whatever the outcome of the O’Bannon case on appeal, the practice of depending on the players to make millions while denying them from making a dime is coming to an end. The day of some form of compensation is coming, and soon the NCAA may not be able to restrict players from profiting from their own likeness or autographs.

All these developments are making Mark Emmert and Co. squirm in their Indianapolis headquarters. Rest assured that the NCAA will not exist in its current constitution within a few years. Its day of reckoning is nigh.

 

10 Burning Questions for 2016 Season

After a two-year absence at the top, Alabama stormed back to reclaim the college football throne by defeating Clemson in a scintillating national championship game. Nick Saban went on to corral the top-ranked recruiting class a month later, so it looks like the crimson dynasty will continue, right?

Actually, maybe not. Now in the third year of the playoff era, the college football landscape looks more competitive than ever. The Big Ten is unquestionably on the rise again; the elite teams in the ACC are as good as those in the SEC; and the nouveau riches of the Big 12 have successfully broken up the Oklahoma-Texas monopoly.

Will we see a third different champion in as many years? Might there be a legitimate party crasher from out of the Power 5 conferences? We have questions – and answers – from on the off the field for the 2016 season:

Check out live college football odds & futures

  1. Has Alabama lost too much to repeat?

 Sure, Saban is just going to reload, no matter how much he’s lost in the offseason. But it might not be that simple. The Crimson Tide will debut a fourth starting quarterback in as many seasons and must address attrition throughout both sides of the ball, including Heisman-winning running back Derrick Henry. Add road games at LSU, Ole Miss and Tennessee, the task of repeating suddenly looks pretty daunting.

  1. Is Houston a legitimate playoff contender?

Under first-year coach Tom Herman, the Cougars seemingly came out of nowhere to go 13-1, claimed the Group-of-Five bid for a New Year’s Six bowl and blew out Florida State in the Peach Bowl. Houston then added the most impressive recruiting class among G5 schools. With nonconference home games against Oklahoma and Louisville, the Cougars may get a shot (though a long one) at a playoff berth if they can go undefeated.

  1. How soon will Big 12 expand and which schools will it add?

It’s not a matter of if, but when, will the Big 12 add at least two more teams to make its name eponymous again. And that may happen as soon as this summer. The top candidates for the conference’s expansion are BYU, Cincinnati, UConn and maybe UCF and USF. West Virginia favors an eastern school as a travel partner, and school president Gordon Gee is lobbying hard for it.

  1. What kind of TV windfall can Big Ten expect to get?

Commissioner Jim Delany is a shrewd negotiator and this is why the Big Ten is expected to get the most lucrative media rights deal when its current contracts expire after the 2016-17 season. Fox anted up $250 million per year for half of Big Ten’s media rights, with ESPN and NBC in hot pursuit of the other half. When it’s all said and done, the Big Ten will at least triple the $100 million annual take from its last deal.

  1. Will USC’s schedule torpedo Clay Helton’s first season?

Let’s see, the Trojans open against Alabama at Jerry World, play road games at Pac-12 champ Stanford, Utah, Washington and UCLA. And they also get Oregon at home and finish the regular season with Notre Dame. Is that all? This is by far the hardest schedule any team will face this season, if not in recent memory. Helton, in his first full season as USC’s head coach, will have his hands full, even with a very talented squad.

  1. Will another running back win the Heisman Trophy?

In this century, the Heisman has been dominated by quarterbacks. You have to go back to 1998-99 to find non-QBs winning the statuette in consecutive years. That may happen again this year as most of the Heisman front-runners are running backs, including last year’s runnerup Christian McCaffrey of Stanford, LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson may have a different idea, though.

  1. Is Clemson here to stay as a powerhouse?

Watson, who dazzled in the national title game and nearly single-handedly took down Alabama, is back with the Tigers. But Florida State, which won the last BCS title in 2013 and also made the playoff in 2014, will want to reclaim supremacy in the ACC. Their clash on Oct. 29 at Doak Campbell Stadium will settle a lot more than who wins the conference title.

  1. Might it be SEC’s turn to miss the playoff?

Given the current playoff format, each season at least one Power 5 conference will be kept out of the four-team field. And don’t laugh, it might be the SEC’s turn in 2016. If Alabama should stumble in conference play and no dominant team emerges in its stead – especially if the still-rebuilding SEC East wins the title game – the “toughest conference in college football” just might be missing out.

  1. What will Jim Harbaugh do to stay in the news?

Without question, since he returned to college football last year, Harbaugh has been the No. 1 newsmaker in college football. Whether it’s his satellite camps, recruiting tactics and clever subtweets, the Michigan coach has had everyone’s rapt attention. But the thing he craves the most is winning, and this year he might have the team to compete not just in the Big Ten but also for a playoff berth. If the Wolverines win the conference for the first time since 2004, Harbaugh-mania will be difficult to escape.

  1. Who’s going to win it all in 2016?

Last year, only Alabama made it back to the playoff after being in the inaugural field in 2014. This year, Clemson will be the only team among last year’s final four to return. The ACC champion Tigers should be joined by Big Ten champ Michigan, Pac-12 winner Stanford and the surprise entrant Houston in the four-team field. Clemson will win it all this time, defeating Heisman winner McCaffrey and Stanford in the title game.

The NCAA: It’s Never About the Kids

The NCAA on Monday issued a three-year moratorium on new bowl games, effectively killing new bowls about to sprout up in Myrtle Beach and Charleston in South Carolina and Austin, Texas. It looks like we’re stuck with no more than 40 bowl games plus the College Football Playoff Championship game until at least the 2019 season.

Some people snickered and rejoiced. They already complained that there were too many bowls last season when three teams with losing records had to be plucked just to fill all 80 bowl berths. The NCAA, obviously, agreed.

The move is misguided at best. But the more important fact is that once again, when in doubt, the NCAA always rules against the “student-athletes” that it claims to serve.

Who benefits the most from the bowl games? The players, of course. They get a few more weeks of football (and training table), an all-expenses paid trip to usually somewhere warm, a few bucks to spend with their per diem, and swag provided by the bowls that’s worth hundreds of dollars in merchandise.

The bowl games, except the biggest ones involved in the College Football Playoff, actually don’t benefit the schools very much financially. Most teams end up losing money after expenses because they cannot make up the cost of unsold tickets each school must absorb at face value. That, plus the additional expenses of transporting the band and other personnel to the games (and paying coaches their bonuses), is why the administrators are hardly heartbroken to see a stop to the proliferation of bowl games.

This is essentially why the moratorium was issued. To say that the NCAA serves the student-athletes is just a sick joke besides being a blatant lie. The NCAA is a consortium of the universities and it really just serves the member institutions and their bottom lines.

Need more proof? Just look at the blanket satellite camp ban that was issued a few days before the bowl moratorium. At the behest of the SEC and the ACC, which have been enduring a constant onslaught since one Jim Harbaugh returned to coach college football, the NCAA abolished satellite camps, effective immediately.

Just who does the satellite camp ban hurt the most, you ask? Not Jim Harbaugh, but the student-athletes. You see, these camps’ main purpose was to allow the less recruited (the non- 5-star or 4-star recruits) to be seen by a multitude of coaches working in camps all across America. These recruits would be able to go to a couple of their camps near their homes and be evaluated by coaches from dozens of programs, including many Group of Five schools.

But now that opportunity is gone. If you go to Urban Meyer’s camp in Columbus but had no shot of getting a scholarship from Ohio State, now you’ve lost a chance to be seen by the several MAC coaches who typically worked in the camp. The same goes for Hugh Freeze’s camp at Ole Miss, where usually several Sun Belt coaches were present.

And you know what’s more insane? The Sun Belt, along with the Mountain West, Big 12 and Pac-12 all joined the SEC and ACC and voted for the satellite camp ban, against the interest of many coaches of their own institutions. Even some of the coaches who were for the ban – most notably Freeze – are expressing regrets now as they hadn’t fully realized the potential consequences.

Make no mistake, the satellite camp ban isn’t going to hurt Harbaugh, Meyer or Freeze one iota. They’re still going to get their elite recruits. It’s the kids scraping to get a Division I football scholarship – and their families – who are going to feel the burn of the latest NCAA edict.

They should get real, however. Just like the bowl moratorium, the NCAA is never about them anyway. It likes the essential services the “student-athletes” provides to fill the coffers of all of the member institutions, but their welfare is the last thing that keeps the NCAA administrators up at night.

Postscript: Predictably, Harbaugh has hit back with a vengeance, calling the NCAA “hypocritical” and suggesting it drop the use of “student-athletes for consistency.”

Who Needs Cinderella for This Power Ball?

Good thing the fair prince didn’t ask the knights of the NCAA selection committee to guard the entrance to his dance hall.

If they had seen Cinderella, they would’ve curb-stumped her to a bloody pulp, pulverized her glass slippers, ransacked her carriage and left her dying by the moat.

That’s essentially what the Gang of 10 has done to what was once the most romantic sporting event on the planet – March Madness. They’re only letting in the prim-and-proper offsprings of the nobility, and leaving the riff-raff out in the cold.

Read the entire transcript from Joe Castiglione – the Oklahoma athletic director and NCAA tournament selection chair – if you wish. But there is only one unmistakable message from the committee: If you’re not from a power conference – drop dead.

How else would you explain the outrageous exclusions of Monmouth, St. Bonaventure, St. Mary’s, Valparaiso and San Diego State while power conference also-rans such as Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Michigan and Tulsa all got a free pass? Of the 25 non-power conferences (excluding football’s Power 5, Big East and American), only Dayton, VCU (Atlantic 10) and Wichita State (Missouri Valley) earned at-large berths out of 36 available.

That’s right. If you’re a mid-major or a small conference program, no matter how well you scheduled, how many big-name schools you beat and how much you dominated your conference during the regular season, you should go directly to the NIT if you don’t claim your conference’s automatic bid.

No example of the committee’s snubbishness is more evident in the exclusion of Monmouth, which went 27-7 during the season before just falling short of Metro Atlantic’s automatic bid when it lost to Iona in the conference title game. The Hawks played all but one of their 11 non-conference games on the road and won eight of them, beating the likes of UCLA, Georgetown, Notre Dame and USC. The Irish and Trojans are in the tournament, and it’s not Monmouth’s fault that perennial powerhouses Bruins and Hoyas decided to suck this season. (And Monmouth beat UCLA at Pauley Pavilion, something tournament-bound Kentucky and Arizona couldn’t do.)

Essentially, Monmouth did what the committee has claimed for years what a non-power program must do. Go play the big boys and prove yourself. Never mind how difficult that is in the first place – most power programs don’t want anything to do with decent mid-majors – and the Hawks did it anyway. But on Selection Sunday, the committee found new excuses to keep them out.

Oh, Monmouth lost to Canisius! Lost to Manhattan! Those are bad losses! Funny how the same principle didn’t apply to Syracuse, which lost to the same Georgetown team that Monmouth beat and 8-24 St. John’s; or Vanderbilt, which was sent packing by a 14-18 Tennessee team in the first game of the SEC tournament; or especially Tulsa, which lost to Memphis twice in 12 days by a combined 32 points – and Memphis wasn’t even invited to the NIT!

It’s as if had Syracuse played in the Metro Atlantic, it’d automatically have gone 20-0. No matter what conference you play in, it’s difficult to run the table just because of the familiarity, the rivalry and the fact that for a team like Monmouth, every road conference games it plays in is the game of the year for the opponent. But in the committee’s eyes, every loss is just a bad loss.

And you know who almost did run the table? San Diego State. The Mountain West had been a multi-bid conference in past years, but it’s a little down this year. But still, the Aztecs went 16-2 after winning the first 11 conference games to open the season. You know how hard it is to play in the high altitudes of Laramie and Albuquerque and in as disparate places as Boise, Fresno and Las Vegas? If you put Kansas, Michigan State or North Carolina in the MWC this year, they’d be hard pressed to top San Diego State’s 16-2 mark.

But the committee doesn’t care about any of that. All it wants to do is pick warts from the resumes of non-power programs. If they had quality wins, then it’s the bad losses that did them in (Monmouth). If they don’t have many bad losses, then it’s their non-conference schedule that’s not up to snuff (St. Mary’s). Or it’s just too much or not enough of either (St. Bonaventure).

So what we’re left with is seven teams apiece from the Big 12, Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12. Yeah, we can’t get enough of Jim Boeheim, Kevin Stallings or Jamie Dixon. Who needs to see Cinderellas when you can have all those ugly and whiny stepsisters at the ball?

The committee seems to forget that Madness became an essential part of March precisely because Valpo knocked out Ole Miss on an impossible buzzer-beater, Florida Gulf Coast dunked its way to two upset victories, George Mason made it all the way to the Final Four, Butler played in back-to-back title games, and Princeton came within a last-second jumper to slay mighty Georgetown.

Nah, who needs that kind of romanticism? Instead of fourth-year seniors who bring something special in one last organized basketball game before they move on to something other than sports, we’ll see more one-and-dones with agents ready with the paperwork and cash on their way out of the arena. Instead of hearing stories about a unique campus that’s the fabric of Americana, we’ll get more of power conference infomercials on how much they’re spending on their spanking new athletic lounges.

And please, please spare us the bull manure about which teams were more “deserving.” The selection of the final tournament teams is entirely subjective as you can use any metric or analytic tool to justify the inclusion or exclusion of any team that’s on the bubble. When the tournament was expanded by four teams to increase the number of at-large bids, is it really for the purpose of adding more big-conference mediocrity?

Apparently so, to this selection committee. In the world of Castiglione and Co., the three little pigs must be devoured by the big bad wolf, Hansel and Gretel must be cooked by the witch, and Cinderella? She must be locked away in the attic, never to be seen again.