When the NCAA's power brokers emerged from their formerly smoke-filled room Sunday night and passed out the coveted invitations to their men's tournament, they did nothing to clear the air as far as the Mid-American Conference is concerned.
The MAC got just one bid for the sixth year in a row - for conference tournament champion Ohio - despite the fact that several of its other teams appeared to meet the primary criteria the NCAA had established in years past. In terms of strength of schedule, non-conference records, and the RPI ratings, everything improved - except the number of bids for the MAC.
"It is very disappointing," MAC commissioner Rick Chryst said yesterday. "Around the league there's frustration and disappointment, and some people are quite upset. Their reactions are understandable, but at the same time you try and stay disciplined and not jump to conclusions or fall into any conspiracy thinking about this."
Before the start of last week's conference tournament, the MAC seemed to be as close to a lock on multiple bids as it has been in a long time. As a conference, it was in the top 10 in all of the rankings that have mattered historically. Nine of the MAC's 13 teams had winning records, and the MAC had four of its teams in the top 50 in the RPI, which has been the most commonly cited benchmark for placing schools in the 65-team NCAA tournament field. This year the RPI was supposed to reward the mid-majors for winning games
on the road, and in turn punish the big boys who eschew playing nonconference games on anyone else's floor but their own.
In the eleventh hour, however, the NCAA tweaked its RPI formula, and it suddenly was no longer the much ballyhooed Rosetta Stone for understanding how to make the tournament field. Many in the MAC were left bewildered by it all.
"This is a very serious issue for the conference. And is this a moving target? That's what we're asking ourselves right now," Chryst said. "Our teams are competing at a very high level and coming off our best non-conference season in a decade. And I think that as a league, we were deeper than we've ever been."
The MAC, a regular participant in the ESPN Bracket Busters, which were proposed as a means of getting more exposure for the mid-major conferences close to the selection time, found out the Bracket Busters haven't busted anything - yet. The fat cats in the top six conferences - Big Ten, Big East, ACC, SEC, Big 12, Pac-10 - swallowed up almost half of the field, 31 of the 65 slots in the tournament.
"This is not a new conversation for us, but every year it seems to have a new story line," Chryst said. "I respect the committee and I understand the selection challenges they face, especially with increased parity. But I also think our coaches and our players deserve better."
When MAC regular-season champion Miami got left at the altar by the NCAA Sunday night, it marked the first time in history that the regular-season champion from a top 10 rated conference was passed up for the NCAA tournament field. It is hard to understand, Chryst said, stressing that his feeling was more one of frustration, and he did not want it interpreted as complaining after the fact.
"We're one of the few conferences that play a full 18-game league schedule, and that's in large part because people just won't schedule us," he said. "Sixty percent of our nonconference games are on the road. To do all that, and not have it translate into at-large bids, is frustrating. It's a fair assessment to say that it seems that we have not made a lot of progress in this area."
The MAC has won at least one game in the NCAA tournament in seven of the last nine years. Kent State made a much publicized run into the Elite Eight in 2002, while Miami went to the Sweet 16 three years earlier.
The MAC did land four teams in this year's National Invitation Tournament field - Miami, Buffalo, Kent State and Western Michigan. And Western Michigan kicked off that tournament Monday night by going on the road and beating Marquette soundly.
"We value the NIT," Chryst said. "We had a team win a postseason game on national TV last night, and I'm not going to take anything away from that. It's just that receiving at-large selections in the NCAA tournament is a critical component of establishing an elite league, and I don't think we had inflated expectations in that regard."
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BUFFALO - The University at Buffalo yesterday fired Cheryl Dozier as coach of the women's basketball team, citing the team's struggles over the past two seasons.
The school said a national search for a replacement would begin immediately.
Dozier compiled an 89-107
record (44-68 MAC) during seven seasons at Buffalo.
In the last two seasons, the team posted a 10-45 record (6-26 MAC) ) and won just two of its last 30 road games.