Mid-major teams should fear the words coming out of Rick Pitino's mouth. They could end the NCAA Tournament as we know it.
Rick Pitino seems to be squarely sitting in the Jay Bilas camp to fill the spot of Big East commissioner. And while the hire would be creative, and a definite forward-looking move by the Big East conference, this is a move that Mid-Major Madness has to fear.
Why would we be so opposed to the ESPN analyst's candidacy?
Not to go against the party line put forth by SBNation, but it is Bilas' stance on the NCAA Tournament is the biggest reason to oppose the unconventional move.
Jay Bilas has repeatedly come out against the automatic bids for every conference in the NCAA Tournament. It is not something he is shy about putting out there.
As commissioner of one of the strongest leagues in the country, Bilas would have the ability to make his vision for the tournament an actual reality. It wouldn't be talking-head bluster on television anymore.
This would severely harm the mid-major ranks.
When questioned about his plan to wipe out the auto bids, Bilas is always quick to say that he isn't shutting out anyone from access to the NCAA Tournament. Instead, he said he believes that more deserving teams will receive bids and the tournament as a whole would be better.
But that ignores some of the realities of Division 1 basketball.
You have to start with the selection committee, that despite its efforts to be more open with how it conducts business by having mock selections with the media is still a behind-closed-doors operation. No one but the select few on the committee are allowed into the room during the actual selection, and the chairs of the committee have been very evasive when asked about specific teams, or decisions after the field has been chosen.
Because the committee is so secretive, it is hard to believe that more mid-major programs would end up with the 16 or so bids that would be opened by eliminating the automatic bids.
Would Drexel have received an invitation this past year? Based on their seeding in the NIT, they still would have been sitting on the edge of their seats Selection Sunday hoping to get a bid.
Of the top 16 teams by seeding in the NIT this past season (presumably the next best "at-large" teams), only three would be from conferences that this site considers mid-majors (Drexel, Middle Tennessee State and Oral Roberts). The rest come from the Big 6 conferences, or the Atlantic 10.
That isn't keeping access open. That is shutting out multiple leagues from ever having a chance.
If this change would occur, there would never be another SWAC team in the NCAA Tournament. There would never be another MEAC team. And a number of leagues that move up and down regularly in terms of talent level would permanently be stuck in neutral.
That is directly related to the second piece of the equation: money.
Conferences get money for NCAA Tournament appearances, and for many of these leagues, that money is crucial for their survival at the Division 1 level. It might just be a little over a million dollar for a league, but think about the lengths that some of teams have to go through each year -- taking guaranteed loss after guaranteed loss just to make sure they can complete their conference schedule.
There might be too many teams at the Division 1 level, and the redistribution of wealth in basketball, not to mention the lack of access to the tournament could change that. But that shouldn't be a decision that comes without a lot of thought into what it means for these leagues right now to compete at the highest level.
Cutting someone off from their wallet is a big deal.
And it hurts a lot of these schools in recruiting. We aren't talking about those teams at the bottom, but more the ones in the middle. What if a Creighton makes several runs into the NCAA Tournament? The types of players that they can recruit get better and better.
Sometimes those runs could come because of an automatic bid, because the conference is too weak to send multiple teams. Other times, the squad may earn one of the at-large bids.
But if you make it an at-large only proposition, the opportunity to achieve what could be thought of as sustained success is greatly hampered.
The reason that the Butlers and Virginia Commonwealths of the world are able to move up to better leagues is because they have been in the tournament so many times. They get better players because those guys see that they have a chance to be in the NCAA Tournament with a certain team more than another. It is like a 12-step method for program improvement, but it takes that golden ticket to the dance.
The exposure that some of these programs get by just making the NCAA Tournament isn't only something that affects them in sports. It increases applications to the school. It brings potential revenue generating students to places that they might not have ever heard of before a lucky March run.
And that doesn't count the extra time on television that the final two teams in each conference receive as they attempt to just reach the dance.
Cutting off access has deep implications, from money to viability for some of these schools. Adding 16 bids, which would likely just serve the top conferences already garnering more than their share, might seem like the right thing to do for the so-called snubs.
That Jay Bilas is so attached to the idea of killing these auto bids should be a warning bell for every conference outside the top 15, and more likely everyone outside of the top 8 conferences.
It could be the end of college basketball as we know it.