Playing Against a Stacked Deck – the NCAA Div 1 Basketball System: Love it or Leave it.

Fighting the Principled Fight – The one you cannot Win.


When in doubt, Blame the Victim.

Most folks say we should ‘Pick our Battles’, and fight the battles we have a chance to win. Some fights we cannot win. So, should we avoid the tough fights, the ones we Know we have no chance of winning? High principle tells us that we should fight the battles worth fighting – regardless as to whether or not we have a prayer of winning. Fight the good fight, for the great cause, on the principle of it…because it is worthy of the battle. Pragmatism tells us to cut our losses and move on to a new situation, hopefully a better situation.

College sports are a stacked deck, in favor of the large state-run institutions. These are predominantly the big football schools, now in the so-called Bowl Championship Series (BCS) Division 1 football leagues. But let us make no mistake about it, these large state-run institutions have waged war on the rest of collegiate sports since the late 1960’s – early 70’s, well before the creation of the so-called BCS system.

Division 1 college basketball had become, from the post war 1940’s through the early 1970’s, the province of the Independent universities and some of the smaller basketball conferences. These basketball schools claimed more than their fair share of NCAA & NIT tourney slots and a substantial number of NCAA National Championships. In fact in 1971, 3 of the 4 Final Four participants were independent or small conference schools. This dominance was found intolerable and totally unacceptable by the large conferences, especially in light of the fact that these post-season tournaments were becoming more popular and becoming profitable income streams. In the mid 1970’s the large (football) conferences saw that basketball could become another profit center for their coffers. They directed the NCAA to eliminate the independent schools from the NCAA Basketball Tournament, and to restrict the numbers of participants from the smaller basketball conferences. These new measures forced many independent schools to run to join conferences or form new conferences altogether. These measures secured the landscape for the large conferences, as they controlled the lions share of berths in the NCAA Basketball Tournament, thus reaping the bulk of the growing revenue stream.

But the collective memory span is very short in these modern times, in part caused by the racing blur of information and images which continually whiz past us, and also by our unconscious reflex to filter out much of the said information that confronts and often confounds us.

In collegiate Division 1 basketball, the post-season tournaments are stacked systems rewarding the ‘haves’, the large state-run schools, while offering the non-BCS institutions encouragement via mirages and halograms. The media supports this system of halographic trickery. They encourage ‘Cinderella’ to the ball, by briefly celebrating first this small school, then that one, on a random basis – allowing them Warhol’s “15 Minutes of Fame”, then moving on to the next candidate. Today’s non-BCS school has a 1-in-10 chance to win in the reining configuration of the current NCAA Tournament, according to a recent article posted on the Mid Majority website. Only a 10% chance to win.

With the seeding system favoring the teams promoted in the major polls, the state-run schools are “seeded” higher – gaining more favorable matchups, enabling them better opportunity to advance in the tourney. Non-BCSer’s are generally seeded 10th -16th, as they are the lambs for slaughter. They are the cupcakes offered up for easy 1st round wins for the highest seeds. Many are paired against one another to ensure additional reduction of their numbers. The fact that the ‘cupcakes’ sometimes win (especially the 10 & 12 seeds) is in itself, remarkable.

Several recent articles by noted writers have articulated the mechanisms of the college basketball system. They explain the connections and correlations within and between sports spending by universities, university income streams from the media and the NCAA, media rankings-polls, and tournament seeding systems. It is well documented that as constructed, this system is designed to perpetuate the dominance and control of the large state-run schools and conferences.

Yet, we persist in blaming the Victims. We denigrate the non-BCS schools for not being able to effectively compete, for not being able to overcome the large school spending, not overcoming the media bias, not being able to win – as the Independents did in decades past. We blame the victim. We celebrate the one or two clubs that win a game or two in the tournament, and at the same time, we vilify and berate the teams that tend to follow the predetermined script. The non-BCSer’s are supposed to lose, the system is designed for them to lose, they are Expected to lose. These lambs are faultless. They are fodder. They provide Dickie V, Jim Nance, and the fellas the interesting ‘color’ stories, and for the 1st weekend (& maybe 2nd weekend, some years), the Upset bylines which make the NCAA Tourney so exciting. It would be such a boring and mundane tournament without the schools from leagues 7-32.

The non-BCSer’s can never join the ranks of the large state-run BCS club. Teams such as Gonzaga, Xavier, Memphis, Kent State, Southern Illinois, Murray State, Bradley, George Mason, Creighton, and the other “on-the-cusp” schools do not have the access to capital and recurring large income streams to effectively compete on a consistent basis. Yes, many of these schools are able to compete in the short term, even over a limited extended period of time (several years). They do not have the budgets to consistently hang with the Big conference schools over the long term. Knowing this, the media and the masses influenced by them, continue to criticize the victims for not overcoming their lot and exceeding the expectations of the masses. They perpetrate the myth of parity in Division 1 Collegiate Basketball

We ‘love’ Cinderella and trumpet accolades on the new one (or two) each year. But although we claim to love the underdog and to see them triumph, we know they don’t have a snowball’s chance in Hades of winning the crown. The fact that the schools listed above are able to compete at all within this system is remarkable. Additionally, that Xavier, Memphis, and Gonzaga have garnered ad-hoc membership as “Majors” is a truly amazing feat. But the bottom line is revenues. Greed is running rampant in the Big Six conferences.

I fully expect further rules changes to be forthcoming to reign in the growing clout of the top non-BCS leagues and teams. Some non-BCS leagues (MVC for one) have been ‘accused’ of manipulating the rules to increase its’ standing among the top conferences, thus garnering more berths in the postseason tournaments. The major conferences have consistently lobbied for and gained in recent years, reductions in the numbers of at-large berths given to non-BCS teams. Controlling the lions’ share of the NCAA Basketball revenue is not enough, the haves now want the entire pie. Let’s step on the little guys, again. It is 1974 all over again.

Seeding Berths
NCAA Residuals
TV Revenues
Media Marketing

Program Budgets – BCS gains more $, has more to spend. Self perpetuating cycle.
Recruiting Spending Ratio: $Spending:Winning % Creates ^ exposure/tv = ^ $. Repeat the cycle.
Media exposure/TV contracts heavily slanted to BCS conferences.
BCS Teams: Win 9 of 10 in the NCAA Tourneys
Non-BCS Teams: Lose 9 of 10 in NCAA Tourneys
Seeding tied to Media exposure & Media bias in Rankings – BCS schools dominate exposure and rankings.
Seeding directly related to Tourney success/failure – BCS schools dominate top seeding.
Seeds 10-16 are pre-determined to lose. Non-BCS teams heavily populate these seeds. They are often paired against one another to speed the elimination process.
A non-BCS win is an upset. Few non-BCS schools garner middle seeds, almost none gain top 4 seeds.
BCS schools make the deep runs, go to the Final Four, win championships. Mission accomplished.

The NCAA Division 1 Basketball system and its’ Division 1 Basketball Tournament is a stacked deck favoring the large state-run, BCS conferences and schools. The Big Six conference schools always win, again. Not withstanding the recent outstanding runs by Memphis and George Mason, the previous non-BCS school make the Final four was Utah in 1998. The last non-BCS team to be in a Final Four and win the NCAA Basketball Championship was the 1991 UNLV team. Prior to that was the Marquette championship of 1977.

The exclusion is by design. The rich get richer. Rush is right; Love it or Leave it.

The Solution: Leave the NCAA / Form a new association.

There is a solution, but neither you nor the NCAA will like it. The non-BCSer’s, conferences 7-32 either form a new association (American Collegiate Basketball Assn. [ACBA]; College Basketball Assn. [CBA]; other), or join a revamped existing organization (NAIA, other) and utilize the new CBI Tourney (32, 64, or 128 team format) as their basketball championship tournament. These smaller conferences will never be allowed true parity, never allowed to effectively compete as was the case in the 1940’s – 70’s. There is just too much revenue at stake to allow that to happen.

The viable solution is to break with the NCAA, as that is the only way to gain a fair and equitable access to representation, power, and revenue sharing. Let the Big Six have their organization and tourney – they already own it. Forming a new association and utilizing the CBI Tournament will provide the so-called non-BCS leagues new life. These leagues get a new and fair system to function within, new revenue streams via cable and satellite networks, and lastly, a unbiased championship tournament to compete in.