Why the CAA and Big Sky champs should always be in an NCAA tournament play-in game, regardless of record

This is just a brief companion post to my longer discussion about the NCAA Tournament’s play-in games (also known as PIGs). In that post, I referenced a quote  from the Albany Times-Union made by Peter Hooley, a player for Albany. Here it is again:

“If you play well enough to win your league,you shouldn’t have to play a play-in game.”

Hooley is correct, but you might be surprised to know that not every small- or mid-major conference shares his point of view. At least, not every league commissioner agrees with him.

In a story from USA Today, both CAA commissioner Tom Yeager and Big Sky chief Dennis Farrell both suggested they would actually prefer that their respective league champions be sent to Dayton for a play-in game in a certain situation:

“We joke about it in the conference offices, but if you’re going to have a 16 seed, let’s go to Dayton,” Colonial Athletic Association commissioner Tom Yeager said. “Play someone that’s relatively similar to you with the opportunity to pick up another basketball unit, and then you walk into the lion’s den with the No. 1 seed.

“Last year, James Madison was able to win and then line up with Indiana. I’d rather take that route than line up with Indiana or another No. 1 seed right out of the box. That’d be my preference. It’s a winnable game, and the unit is worth, over six years, about $1.5 million dollars.”…

…”When the whole concept of the play-in games first came up, as a conference commissioner I wasn’t very excited about the prospect of having a team playing in those games,” says longtime Big West commissioner Dennis Farrell, who expects to be in Dayton to cheer on Cal Poly. “But in all honesty, when they put the financial reward on winning that game, it certainly changed my viewpoint about it. If you’re going to be a 16 seed, you might as well have a chance to pick up a victory in the tournament.

It’s possible neither man has ever asked the players and fans of affected teams about the difference between being a “regular” 16 seed and one sent to a play-in game. I guess it’s also possible neither one cares that much about the opinions of the athletes and supporters. That might seem harsh, but I’m not sure how else to interpret those comments, particularly Yeager’s.

Coastal Carolina got a 16 seed and was matched up against Virginia. Was it a difficult matchup for the Chanticleers? Of course it was (although CCU actually led the game at halftime).  Regardless, Coastal Carolina’s players and fans received the benefit of the complete NCAA Tournament experience in a way that the AQs relegated to the play-in games did not.

I know that if my school somehow ever won its league, I would be bitterly disappointed (if not very angry) if it were put in a play-in game. The difference between the play-in games and being part of the real tourney — because make no mistake, the PIGs are not part of the real tourney — is enormous.

In my opinion, if SoCon commissioner John Iamarino ever suggested that he would not mind seeing his league champion in a play-in game, it would be a sign that the SoCon needed a new commissioner.

Basically, I’m writing about this because I was struck at how open these two commissioners were about this topic and their viewpoints on it.  After all, the extra cash on the table is basically “hush money” for smaller leagues, so as to reduce the amount of complaining about automatic qualifiers having to go to the PIGs.

Yeager and Farrell aren’t the only commissioners who feel this way (the article also quotes MEAC commissioner Dennis Thomas), but they are the two who are quoted as preferring the play-in game to being a “regular” 16 seed. That leads me to make a simple suggestion.

Every year, the CAA and Big Sky champions should automatically be sent to Dayton for a play-in game, regardless of their record. That way, those two leagues have the opportunity to pick up the additional “basketball unit” they seem to want.

So next year, if William & Mary were to win 20+ games and finally claim a league tourney title, instead of being part of the regular NCAA Tournament, the Tribe would go to Dayton and participate in a play-in game. That would naturally be unfair to its players (including the redoubtable Marcus Thornton) and longtime fans, who have always dreamed of playing in the NCAAs.

However, the CAA would have a chance of making a little more money. That’s the bottom line, isn’t it?

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One Response

  1. If you get put in a play in game, and want to be part of the 64 team field, win the game. Surely, if you think your team is good enough for the tournament, they should be able to beat a 16seed caliber team.

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