Kyle, it seems like mid-majors still aren't getting any respect. It doesn't matter how many games CAA or Missouri Valley teams win, it's either a "step towards respectability" or some kind of fluke. How many steps is it going to take? John, Falls Church VA
I'll start this like I always do, with the big picture. There are 337 schools that play Division I basketball, each with a coaching staff that oversees 12-15 or so players, each one with tendencies and skillsets and weaknesses. Every single one of those schools has proud traditions, a gym with haunted corners, and banners honoring players and moments gone by. Every time each one of these teams play, they unspool miles and miles of game tape that can be watched, broken down and analyzed.
Now, covering a pro league like the NBA must be a snap -- there are only a handful of teams, they rarely move around, and the free agent signings give you enough to write about over the summer. In major American football BCS-style, there are around 150 schools, but the system is so stacked that only 40 or so have a shot at the title. We're not like that -- all 337 teams have a theoretical shot at the national championship, because they play it out on the floor.
Judging from your location, John, I'm going to assume you're a George Mason fan. GMU is the ultimate symbol of what's possible in the NCAA's egalitarian system, because the Patriots erased nearly three decades of "can't be done," made it all the way to the Final Four, and then started airing ads with an annoying "Mason Nation" song that play constantly on D.C. area sports television. But I've noticed, as you have, that a lot of the people responsible for explaining college basketball to you (a/k/a "the media") have spared no time in throwing GMU -- and the rest of the CAA -- under the bus after a slow start, despite the fact that graduation makes good players go away. Some of these people, and I'm not naming names, are also bending over backwards to discount the continued success of Valley teams... or at least reducing and recasting things into a ridiculous debate about cubbyholes ("It's a high major now!" "No it isn't!") instead of evaluating it as the unique and special entity it is. But that's a story that requires more of an attention span than the media gives people credit for.
I don't get angry about it, at least not as angry as folks who spend a lot of time on message boards do, because I think I've come to understand it. This isn't about disrespect, it's about fear.
Not fear of mid-majors in the hellacious terror sense, or in the Scooby-Doo haunted house sense, or even fear of the unknown. I'm talking about fear of doing extra work. More research means less time to schmooze, be on TV or attend cocktail parties, or whatever those people do when they're not on the path to continuous basketball learning. For example: on the day of the Final Four shootaround, a certain national broadcaster (rhymes with "Smacker") spent George Mason's session not watching the team practice, but instead with his nose in a stack of papers and the GMU media guide -- I know this, because I was two seats down from him at the time. That's right, one day before the game he still had very little understanding of exactly what it was that was in front of him.
To borrow a term from the 2 Live Crew, a lot of the college basketball media is as Lazy As They Wanna Be. They can't wait for things to return to the status quo, a magical dreamworld where the 75-or-so Teams That Matter are the only ones worth writing and talking about. And while it's logically fallible enough that 100% of college basketball quality would be concentrated in 25% of the college basketball world -- the same 25% every year, no less -- this is the illusion you're being sold. I mean, it took UMPFN
five years to break into the club... just imagine the resistance if they had brought the rest of the West Coast Conference up into the penthouse with them.
Expertise spawns odd psychology. When something from outside the comfy confines enters, it's rejected as either invalid or an aberration, and any possible reasoning that supports its removal or ouster is cleaved onto. College basketball is so big, so vast, so ultimately beautiful, that claiming you're a college basketball expert is like a doctor saying he's an expert in medicine: for each physician, there is some part of the body that he or she doesn't fully understand. Most stick to a specialty. And while I'd like to see these guys concede that they are "power-conference basketball experts" and not "college basketball experts," I know that's not going to happen. Egos get in the way of that.
As for me, I don't consider myself a mid-major college basketball expert, although others have said that about me and I haven't agreed. I'm just learning along with you. I can collate and evaluate statistics because I can program a computer; I can describe atmosphere and action because I can string sentences together. I did play the game -- in high school, badly -- but 18 year old kids can understand X's and O's, and so can I. I'm just not afraid of a little extra work.***
Remember, you can chat with me (and my 8-lb. lighter chest) today at ESPN.com
SportsNation. And don't bring no weak takes, Romey!