Why it’s Time to Give More Loyolas a Shot

Loyola-Chicago was the true feel-good story of the NCAA tournament.

The 11th-seeded Ramblers, champions of the Missouri Valley, defied the odds and, with great passing, shooting and Sister Jean, marched their way into San Antonio and the hearts of basketball fans alike in their Final Four run.

It was everything that March Madness is about. However, had the Ramblers not won their conference tournament (known as Arch Madness), we likely would have never had that story develop.

And, frankly, it's ridiculous.

In 2006, Bradley, Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois, and Wichita State all made the field. The Valley's four bids matched that of the ACC, Big 12, and Pac-12, which caused immediate criticism from CBS Sports announcer Billy Packer, who couldn't wait until the selection show was over to ridicule the decision by the NCAA Committee. Though no Valley team was seeded higher than seventh, two of them still advanced to the Sweet 16.

Since then, the at-large bids keep shifting further and further away from the mid-major conferences. Never mind that teams such as George Mason, VCU, Wichita State, Butler, and now Loyola have crashed the party en route to the Final Four. Committees nowadays are more likely to hand out eight or nine bids to larger conferences than hand one to a solid mid-major regular season champion that had one bad tournament night.

Do teams with a losing record in conference play deserve an at-large bid to the Big Dance. Honestly, no. Regardless of what conference you play in, if you can't win more games than lose in your conference, you shouldn't compete to be the national champion.

This year, more than one team with a losing conference record (cough, Arizona State, cough, Alabama) found an at-large bid at their doorstep despite a losing conference record. That's a brutal blow to mid-major teams who had better seasons and deserved them more. Currently, the mid-major regular season champion gets an automatic ticket to the NIT if they lose in their conference tournament. That's like saying ... great season, but oops, you slipped once, so let's replace that Corvette with an '88 Yugo. And anyone that remembers the Yugo knows how bad that really is.

It's past time for NCAA selection committees to make some simple minimum requirements to get invited to the Big Dance. Win your conference tournament, you're in. Lose more games than win in your conference, you should be automatically out, provided you don't win your conference tournament.

March Madness is all about seconds. However, if those mid-major teams that danced into our hearts didn't survive three insanely pressure-filled days to win their conference tournament, they likely wouldn't have been in the dance and we would have lost a lost of the luster that makes the NCAA Tournament what it is.

Give the mid-major teams their due. They've earned it.

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