End of Bracket Busters Bitter Sweet

Paul Frederiksen-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN recently announced that this will be the final year for the Bracket Busters event. This is both a blessing and a curse, depending on whom you talk with.

Bracket Busters is over. Long live the Bracket Busters.

This will be the final season for the day-long event that pitted mid-major against mid-major in a last chance effort to gain a quality win before Selection Sunday. Despite the claims that it allowed that opportunity, it was at times difficult to see if it achieved its purpose.

As Andy Katz wrote this morning:

These matchups were given a lot of thought, and the conference commissioners and those in ESPN programming didn't take them lightly.

No, they didn't take them lightly, but what they were working with was of questionable quality. With the committee's strong reliance on the RPI, even matching the top schools would fail to help very much for either team achieving a quality win.

ESPN can point to the classic matchups that have occurred: George Mason vs. Wichita State, Utah State vs. St. Mary's, even Iona vs. Nevada last season. But for every Gaels-Wolf Pack game, there was a Drexel-Cleveland State that didn't quite help.

That was the Bracket Buster game that Drexel was given last season. The Vikings were No. 87 in the RPI at the end of the season. It was a top-100 win for the Dragons, but it wasn't going to give that "extra" oomph that was needed last season to get them over the top and into the NCAA Tournament.

Maybe for the teams at the top, it gave another win that could add in seeding. But it is hard to see how some of these teams were able to improve their resumes for purely selection purposes because of the event.

Even that Iona-Nevada game was a borderline top-50 win for one of the teams. If it falls out of that critical range, it isn't going to move the needle much for the winner (or loser for that matter). Very few of these games are going to give teams the extra incentive to take a little longer trip at that time of the season, just for a return trip earlier in the year next season.

So few of the mid-majors, especially those in conferences participating, were going to be in that hallowed range. And if the teams already were there, they likely don't need the help securing that NCAA spot.

For the others, this was a glorified non-conference game. Maybe it was one extra change to appear on television, to make the case with the so-called "eye test". But the eye test so often takes a back seat during the negotiations at the selection table that it is hard to see the committee members going out of their way to watch a team with a fringe chance of making the field in the first place.

The departure of the Colonial Athletic Association from under the ESPN umbrella means that the pool of teams that had a chance to reach that top-50 mark got even smaller. That was pretty much the death knell according to the ESPN announcement. Coupled with the loss of Virginia Commonwealth and Butler, two of the mid-major stalwarts that provided quality opponents for teams on the fringe in the years past, it was going to be too much to overcome.

Having just St. Mary's, BYU and the Missouri Valley as the prime selections was going to get old fast.

It may seem hypocritical to say that this event wasn't a boon for the mid-majors. Some coaches believe it made the difference between an NCAA bid and not for them. Others don't see the point.

I would tend to agree with the latter group.

While having mid-majors on television is always a good thing (there isn't enough of it, although the wider distribution of these games streamed on the Internet has helped), it can only do so much. As we mentioned, if the matchup isn't good enough, no one is going to watch.

How do you think the teams at the bottom of the barrel fared? When the 200-plus RPI teams are matched together, are many people going to be tuning in on ESPN3, if the game even cracks the list for being televised at all?

And when those teams meet two seasons later, doesn't it just help perpetuate the cycle of the poor RPIs a little longer? Teams rarely turn around that quickly, especially not if you are hoping that they are going from the 200-plus range to the top-100 range.

It becomes another sinker on the schedule that coaches have to work around, and another reason why the mid-majors can't schedule their way into the tournament. You can hear Jay Bilas now: "Look at who they have on their schedule!" No one mentions that it was participating in the ESPN event that put them there.

Every year of the event, it was always lamented that the big boys didn't participate. Yes, it would have taken some guts for a league like the Big Ten to enter and put its best teams against the best from the mid-major ranks. But imagine the opportunity for the teams on the bubble if that happened. There is your signature win if you managed to pull the upset.

And it probably wouldn't affect the big conference as much as they would have expected when the return game occurred.

But that would take a conference commissioner with two things: clout (to convince their member schools to play in this) and guts (to risk having their conference take a few losses). Given all the conference jumbling going on, it is doubtful that any conference commissioner has both qualities to make this happen. No one is willing to risk alienating another of its members and risk them heading off to a rival league.

Bracket Busters was a great idea when it began. It seemed to fill a need to improve the level of scheduling across college basketball. But it needed to evolve and that never occurred.

Even as teams got smarter about scheduling, the methodology and participants in the series rarely changed. That signaled its days were numbered early on. The CAA migration to NBC just put the final nail in a coffin that was already closing down on the day.

Maybe something will emerge to take its place, an event that actually accomplishes giving the mid-major teams on the bubble a chance to win that one last win it needs to get over the hump. But until the conference shuffling settles for good, and that combination of clout and guts can be found, we will have to keep on waiting.

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