Tuesday, Sep 25, 2018
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David Briggs

Think the NCAA tourney screws mid-majors? "The NIT is even more rigged."

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    Toledo's Willie Jackson, center, and Buffalo's CJ Massinburg, left, and Davonta Jordan, behind, battle for a loose ball during the second half of the Mid-American Conference tournament, Saturday in Cleveland.


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    University of Toledo head Tod Kowalczyk during the final seconds of the MAC tournament championship game against Buffalo.


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You think the NCAA tournament screws the mid-major schools?

“The NIT is even more rigged,” Tod Kowalczyk said.

The Toledo coach hopped on the Real Talk Express on Monday after the NCAA’s top consolation event passed on his Rockets.

Don’t get him wrong, he saw it coming. The 68-team NCAA tournament grants automatic bids to the champions of the 32 league tournaments, then, in theory, selects the 36 best at-large teams. The NIT features no pretense. The 32-team invitational tosses a bone to the mid-majors that win a regular-season title but lose in their conference tourney, then, in a straight money play, goes dumpster diving for power-conference names.

That’s how you get teams like Boston College — with a No. 95 RPI rating and a 7-11 record in the Atlantic Coast Conference — in the field and Toledo — with a No. 75 RPI rating and 23 wins — given as much consideration as Boston Barber College.

All that matters is a half-marketable field at Madison Square Garden, where the NCAA-owned tourney hosts its final four.

“They are looking at it as a a revenue source,” Kowalczyk said, “and the only way they’re going to make money is to get the right four teams to New York that will draw well. They already have Hampton, Florida Gulf Coast, Wagner, Northern Kentucky [as automatic qualifiers]. God forbid if any of those teams make it to New York. They don’t want that.”

And so life for Toledo hoops moves on.

The Rockets declined invitations to the third-tier postseason tournaments — money drains for the schools involved — thus ending their season.

Some will call this taking their ball and going home. We’ll call it Toledo standing up for itself.

Yes, Kowalczyk desired an invite to the NIT, an event that paradoxically means little to the big schools that are invited and a lot to the mid-majors that are not. He had a decent case, especially if senior star Tre’Shaun Fletcher could have returned from a bum knee. “We would have had a chance to win some games in that tournament,” he said. “That’s what’s disappointing.”

But without that chance, Kowalczyk knew Fletcher and the Rockets — fresh off a feel-good run to the MAC tournament title game — had nothing to prove. He preferred instead to shift his focus to next season, which, after an NCAA-required two-week break, will begin in earnest with individual instruction. The Rockets return everyone but Fletcher and could again be Buffalo’s top challenger in the conference.

“Our players had a really good season, a very good ending to the season,” Kowalczyk said. “They don’t need to continue to play for anything. I don’t know if there’s a whole lot of interest in those types of [secondary] tournaments. Some people are knocking me saying that we’re losing practice time. I look at it as just the opposite. For us to be a better team next year, we don’t need more practice time. What we need is to get on with our instruction time.”

In the offseason, Kowalczyk also hopes the MAC and its member schools take a hard look at better promoting their men’s basketball product.

“There’s clearly a lack of respect for the MAC,” he said, noting the league is rated 10th in the RPI, ahead of the Atlantic 10. But in his heart, surely he knows little will change.

When Kowalczyk said the other night he hoped the MAC would “fight, scratch and claw and do whatever they can do to get us in the [NIT],” I about spit out my water. The MAC fighting for Toledo? Sorry, give me a moment. We’ll be nice and just say a nail-biting puppy has more formidable claws.

I mean, Ohio athletic director Jim Schaus is on the 10-member NCAA tournament selection committee, and look what that got Buffalo. A No. 13 seed and, if the committee gets its way, a first-round slaughter against powerhouse Arizona.

Forget that Buffalo has a RPI rating at No. 25. The system is the system, with the committee selectively using an ever-shifting set of criteria to protect the cash cows and shiv the little guys.

Never more was that old reality so shamelessly clear than this year. Take Middle Tennessee State, too. Committee chair Bruce Rasmussen said the Blue Raiders “played some tough nonconference games, they just didn’t win them.” Yeah? All they did was win at Ohio Valley champion Murray State, beat two SEC teams, and lose on neutral floors to Auburn, Miami, and Southern California by a combined 14 points, then roll to the Conference USA regular-season title and finish with a No. 33 RPI rating. Sorry, not good enough.

You know what was? Five teams with losing league records. Remember, the folks on the committee are either ADs at big schools or want to be ADs at big schools. Everyone else’s power-conference trash is their treasure.

Kowalczyk saved his strongest words on this year’s bubble for the team coached by his old rival, former Buffalo coach Bobby Hurley. Arizona State made the big dance despite losing 11 of its final 19 games.

“I can understand a team that finishes 9-9 or 10-8 in the Big 12 and plays well down the stretch, but a team like Arizona State?” Kowalczyk said. “That to me is a flawed system and embarrassing that they would have an opportunity to play when you’re clearly not a very good team when the tournament is going on.”

I wonder if the FBI has time to investigate the committee, too. 

Contact David Briggs at: dbriggs@theblade.com419-724-6084, or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.

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