The NCAA has a men's basketball problem.

If it hadn't been for winning the WAC Basketball Tournament it is highly possible that a very good Utah State team would not have been invited to the 2009 NCAA Basketball Tournament. Why? Inside Sparta analyzes that very question.

The NCAA has a men's basketball problem.

A burgeoning one.

But it will be ignored -- all is fine...for them -- because the powers-behind-the-curtain who created it will not allow the issue to be addressed nor address it themselves as all is fine...for them. Hmmm, there appears to be parallels to today's economic headlines.

Call it self interest, one with a needs hierarchy in which the late Abraham Maslow and could have enjoyed a field day, with a more than able assist from the late Adam Smith.

Let's begin with this: say your school's basketball team finished the season atop the conference, possessing a 30-5 overall record, 17-0 at home and 16-3 in non-conference play. Your team also led the nation in shooting for the second straight year. Wouldn't your expectations be that an invite to the Big Dance would be forthcoming for your school regardless of the outcome of the conference tourney?

The answer is a resounding no and therein lies the problem.

For those who have enjoyed hibernating in a cave or elsewhere the last few months, Utah State is our example. For those not proficient at utilizing loaded clues, the concern is scheduling.

Simply put, the Utah State men's basketball team — despite an impressive record and solid team statistics — would have been on the outside looking in sans winning the WAC tournament in Reno.

Why?

Well, that depends on who you talk to.

Because WAC conference games did not aid the Aggies RPI in all probability — the WAC experienced a down year — so beyond the road losses to Boise State and Nevada, such contests were of no benefit. Plus, falling to BYU in Salt Lake City and a BracketBuster defeat at the hands of Patty Mills-less St. Mary's did further damage. A home win against Utah was the only candle the Aggies could shine.

For lack of a better term, the mid majors and those below all have to face this — it's a shared dilemma. The upper crust squads, whether earned or based on conference affiliation do not.

Schools residing in the PAC-10, the Big East, the Big 10 and the ACC (sorry, no including the WAC here) gain their built-in RPI advantage during conference play. Win enough of those and it's like closing time at the bar — everyone looks real good to the selection committee. None of these power teams actually need to play a tough non-league opponent so 'gimmes' are more often than not the sole item on the non-conference menu slate.

Narrowing down this quandary to our example team, there are those who say Utah State Coach Stew Morrill brought this problem upon himself and his squad. It's true that he won't schedule top teams in other leagues, at least not at the terms offered to him. Morrill will not genuflect, that is, sign deals that force his team to travel to Chapel Hill, Syracuse, East Lansing, et al, twice or even three times in return for a marqee power returning the favor once in Logan.

But can you blame him?

The highways and airways are littered with defeated teams returning home in the midst of two-for-ones, three-for-ones and even one and dones — meaning no return visits. Sometimes, it's because of a nice dollar payoff that plugs the holes somewhat in a college's athletic budget but Utah State men's basketball isn't in that needy situation.

Hence Utah State's less than stellar home schedule this season (Cal Poly, UC Irvine, Southern Utah, Houston Baptist, Howard).

Wouldn't it be appropriate for the head of the NCAA to address this caste system situation?

Well, not if he wishes to reside in that position for any length of time. Any interference with a money-making operation would, shall we say, not be appreciated by the members creating those fortunes.

Another factor in this situation: college sports are a business -— an obvious very lucrative one at a number of schools — and coaches are retained or not based upon wins and losses so therefore paid to succeed. Why should Coach A in a power conference 'help out' mid-major Coach B with a one-and-one or a multi-year, home-and-away series unless there is some sort of friendship or previous bond that spurs making such happen. A loss to a so-called unknown only creates an opening for an AD who is wishing to make a change and install his or her coach or for an influential alumnus who wants someone else heading the basketball program.

This problem is yet another example of them that have the gold, rule.

Next time, we'll explore more about the scheduling situation, including what can be done and include some pertinent San Jose State issues.




Kevin McCarthy is the Basketball Editor for Inside Sparta. You may contact Kevin with any questions, comments, or tips at kevin@insidesparta.com

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