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WCC, WAC stand tall amid changing landscape

As the move of USC and UCLA throws the Pac-12 into flux, these two mid-majors fight to remain competitive

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When USC and UCLA announced their jump from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten, speculation began to swirl. What’s going to happen next? What will the Pac-12 do? Who might the conference target in an effort to expand? Will there be a major shift out west?

“For a long time, we’ve been able to weather the conference realignment storms because they’ve been on the other side of the Rockies, so, this is a first,” WCC Commissioner Gloria Nevarez said.

College football has been the major driver for all the conference shuffling in recent years. The WAC began sponsoring football again last year, but it is part of the FCS, so it is not a major player in the football shuffling. The WCC does not sponsor football.

Nevarez and WAC Commissioner Brian Thornton believe it would be beneficial for mid-majors to see major college football split from the rest of college sports and traditional conference alignment. One thought they both mentioned is to have the top 50 college football programs separate themselves.

“If I could wave the magic wand, I would love to unbundle BCS football from the rest of sports because you know we have to do what’s best for the sport of football but hopefully not to the detriment of all others,” Nevarez said.

With the new additions, the Big Ten will feature 16 teams. The SEC will also have 16 members when Texas and Oklahoma join. A double-round-robin in basketball would mean 30 conference games for each of these conferences, which is basically an entire basketball schedule and is significantly more than the 18 or 20 games traditionally featured in a conference slate.

The potential of these added conference games could have several ripple effects among many conferences.

For one, it would provide these power conference teams with even more competitive conference games. Therefore, when the NCAA Tournament selection committee looks at quality wins and strength of schedule, these super conference teams have even more to add to their resumes.

“You have to look at what is the criteria for NCAA [Tournament] entrance,” Thornton said. “What is selection committee legitimately looking for when they’re selecting at-large teams? And it’s increasingly getting harder and harder for mid-major schools to get those opportunities because of the way the selection process is bound.”

This is always a struggle for the selection committee. The question is whether they place a higher emphasis on posting a middle-of-the-pack record playing in a tougher conference or an excellent record in a mid-major conference.

“When you have mid-major programs going 16-2 or 15-3 in their conference, and they’re not even on the bubble, and you have teams that are 8-10 on the bubble, are we rewarding excellence or are we rewarding scheduling?” Thornton said.

As mid-majors continue to look for ways to bolster their NCAA Tournament resumes, scheduling tough non-conference games becomes even more important.

Thornton proposed having a pause to conference play in February every season for mid-majors around the country, which would allow them to play two non-conference games against equal-level opponents. So, teams who are on the bubble or jockeying for NCAA Tournament seeding would have the opportunity to pick up a pair of quality wins.

“For a league like ourselves, Big East, A-10, it’s going to be about scheduling non-conference,” Nevarez said. “Because in addition to conference play, that’s the next big area where we make an impact on our resumes for selection and at-large selection. So, being able to continue to work with strong NET-ranking teams is key to our ability to be able to continue to compete in basketball.”

The WCC’s NET ranking last season was 10th (out of 32 conferences) in the country last season, and the WAC placed 15th.

The WAC has encouraged its members to schedule tough non-conference games by changing the way its conference tournament is seeded. Beginning this season, instead of being based on conference record, the teams will be seeded based on an algorithm that takes into account the non-conference portion of the season as well. This algorithm will help to boost the teams’ NET rankings because it promotes scheduling tough games in the non-conference.

“When you look at the way the NCAA views seeding in the NCAA Tournament, they don’t just take 18 games into account, they take 31 games into account,” Thornton said. “[The best way to improve your seed in the NCAA Tournament is] by incentivizing teams to play competitive schedules and to have teams that have success. And we want to reward teams for doing that.”

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