Thursday, March 31, 2011

It's a new day for mid-majors

Jim Larranaga, Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart are, for good reasons, heroes to fellow college basketball coaches.
Larranaga guided George Mason to the NCAA tournament Final Four in 2006.
Stevens took Butler there in 2010, and this year Stevens has the Bulldogs back in the Final Four, where they’ll play Smart’s Virginia Commonwealth Rams in a national semifinal game Saturday.
Mason, Butler and VCU have proved to so-called mid-major programs that they can get to college basketball’s premier event.
That’s the good news for coaches at programs akin to those Final Four party crashers.
But how long before those schools’ presidents, athletic directors and alumni start to expect long tournament runs from their teams?
How long before just getting to the Big Dance won’t be enough to keep fans from howling about not having had their “turn” to enjoy a Final Four?
With four Final Four berths among the last 24 openings, mid-majors have moved closer to losing “Cinderella” status at the national semifinals.
VCU, a No. 11 seed, probably would not have received its at-large berth to this year’s tournament if the field hadn’t expanded from 65 teams to 68.
Now the Rams are in the Final Four.
There is more opportunity than ever before for mid-majors.
But with opportunity comes expectation, and with expectation comes pressure to deliver.
The NCAA tournament is a cash machine.
Several studies have been done to measure the economic impact Mason’s Final Four run had on the Fairfax, Va., school.
One analysis, done by the Center for Sport Management at Mason, found that the school earned more than $600 million in “free advertising" due to coverage of the Patriots.
Other benefits, that study found, were increases in admissions inquiries and fundraising.
You can bet your pompons other schools have noticed.
College basketball might never be the same because of barriers Larranaga, Stevens and Smart have broken.
That’s not all bad.
It’s not all good, either.
Folks at mid-major programs long to be treated the same as their counterparts at higher-profile schools like Kentucky, UCLA and Kansas.
When mid-major coaches start losing jobs because their  schools haven’t fed at the tournament trough, they’ll realize that’s precisely what has happened.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home