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Never Made The Tournament Club 2019 Primer: ROMAN REPUBLIC EDITION

In which we discuss the concept of meritocracy.

Daily Life In Rome Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

There are teams in college basketball who have never made the NCAA Tournament history. Once upon a time, Rodger Sherman, now of The Ringer wrote about these teams who never danced during their conference tournaments for then SB Nation Northwestern affiliate Sippin’ On Purple. That tradition was carried forward at Inside NU until Northwestern made the NCAA Tournament. As the only remaining teams who are yet to make an NCAA Tournament are mid-majors, Mid-Major Madness is your new hub for the aptly named Never Made The Tournament Club.

Let’s talk about the Roman Republic.

In addition to the start of college basketball, yesterday Election Day in the United States of America, a direct link, as some throwback historians would tell you, to the days of the ancient Roman Republic and the foundations of republican government...blah, blah, blah. Voting is very important. Connecting yourself to some dead Romans (who didn’t have Twitter) is only important if you have a personal stake in the argument. Here at NMTC Central at Mid-Major Madness, we would like to give you a better reason than comparing democratic institutions across 2,200 years.

Why do we care about teams that have never made the NCAA Tournament? 44 mid-majors have never tasted the NCAA Tournament. Sure, it’s a good story for, at most, a week in March, but what’s the point of covering the candidates for an entire season? Some of the teams haven’t even been in Division I for more than ten years. Is it really worth it?

In the Roman Republic, the strings of government were essentially controlled by an oligarchy of elite families. Whatever you think of American governmental institutions, they are far from the dynastic family tress that wielded power in Rome for centuries. Imagine if Clintons, Bushes and Kennedys were still running for high office in 2321. Julius Caesar (who died in 44 BC), for example, had distant ancestors who were consuls (the heads of state of the Republic) in 489 BC.

A better comparison for these Roman families would be the blue bloods of college sports. Kentucky has been good since the beginning of time. Indiana has been somewhat good since the beginning of time. North Carolina won its first championship in 1957. Even if the particular “noble house” isn’t competent, they are still somehow nationally relevant and given primetime television spots due to their decorated histories. To this day, major conference teams still dominate the NCAA Tournament and the major headlines.

But the Roman Republic, like NCAA Division I basketball, wasn’t all about this select group of noble families. Only caring about the Claudii, Fabii, and Kansasii of the Roman Republic would be boring and counterproductive. The Roman Republic, due to its nature as a (somewhat) meritocratic society, would allow for a member of the plebeians — a homo novus (new man) — to rise to high office. This meritocratic advancement, the idea that the major conference powers could be outdone by a homo novus was as mythical and romantic as one would expect. Figures like Gaius Marius, Cato the Elder, and eventually Cicero were able to trade off this idea that they were diametrically against the aristocracy. And they were popular. They won votes. They made it to the top of Roman politics, whether they used their power for good or bad.

The members of the Never Made the Tournament Club are on the first step of the path to becoming homo novii. In order to become a celebrated giant-killer NCAA Tournament team, you need to make the NCAA Tournament.

And so we look upon the 44 teams in this group as our new hopes, our next UMBCs, Norfolk States and Florida Gulf Coasts that can move mountains and overthrow No. 1 seeds. The majority of die-hard college basketball fans cannot all be fans of some Duke-esque milquetoast power conference team with huge arenas and apparel deals. At Mid-Major Madness, those fans are nonexistent. So we ceaselessly track the Never Made The Tourney Club in the hope that our hopes will be sustained. Last year, Lipscomb was the only team to break out of this group. Here’s to everyone who tries to join the Bisons.

William and Mary is the highest-ranked team on KenPom in this list at No. 127. They are among the four Founding Fathers of the NMTC with Army, St. Francis Brooklyn, and The Citadel, which have never made the NCAA Tournament despite existing for the first one. No. 127 is not ideal, but Lipscomb ended last year at No. 167, so as usual, stats are for losers. The Citadel is also really fun to watch, but also has serious problems.

Our usual WAC suspects at Utah Valley and Grand Canyon are back and ready to challenge a New Mexico State team that has graduated several key parts. The Antelopes have been a touted NMTC member for years now, but have always disappointed. Could this be the year? The WAC also has one of our new members, the Cal Baptist Lancers. The other new member, North Alabama, is in the Atlantic Sun with a bunch of NMTC teams that are looking to make an impact in a relatively open year. The new squads are not eligible yet, but observing their first steps on this long and winding road should be fun.

We also have the Grambling Tigers, who became outright SWAC Champions in 2017-18 but failed to make the postseason due to violations. The postseason ban is over, and Grambling should have a shot to defend its title for real this season. And finally, we have Savannah State, which is rapidly transitioning out of Division I athletics entirely, and are thus left with one final shot to make the NCAA Tournament before going back to Division II.

Good luck to everyone.


America East: Hartford Hawks, Maine Black Bears, New Hampshire Wildcats, UMass Lowell River Hawks

Atlantic Sun: Kennesaw State Owls, North Alabama Lions (NEW MEMBER!!), NJIT Highlanders, South Carolina Upstate Spartans, Stetson Hatters (GOAT NAME)

Big Sky: Sacramento State Hornets

Big South: Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs, High Point Panthers, Longwood Lancers, Presbyterian Blue Hose

Big West: UC Riverside Highlanders

CAA: William & Mary Tribe, Elon Phoenix

Horizon League: Youngstown State Penguins

MAAC: Quinnipiac Bobcats

MEAC: Bethune-Cookman Wildcats, Savannah State Tigers, Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks

Northeast Conference: Bryant Bulldogs, St. Francis (NY) Terriers, Sacred Heart Pioneers

Ohio Valley Conference: SIU-Edwardsville Cougars, Tennessee-Martin SkyHawks

Patriot League: Army Black Knights

SoCon: The Citadel Bulldogs

Southland Conference: Abilene Christian Wildcats, Central Arkansas Bears, Incarnate Word Cardinals

SWAC: Grambling Tigers (BACK AT IT)

Summit: Denver Pioneers, IPFW Mastodons, Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks, South Dakota Coyotes, Western Illinois Leathernecks

WAC: California Baptist Lancers (NEW MEMBER!!) Chicago State Cougars, Grand Canyon Antelopes, Texas Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros, Utah Valley Wolverines, UMKC Kangaroos