Cruelty of small-league tournaments is inevitable -- and wrong

By Jeff Goodman | College Basketball Insider

Kermit Davis and Middle Tennessee are good but lost early in the league tourney again. Doomed to NIT? (USATSI)

Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell has won the America East regular-season crown in three of the past four seasons and doesn't have a single NCAA tournament appearance to show for it. Middle Tennessee State coach Kermit Davis and the Blue Raiders dominated the Sun Belt this season, winning 19 of 20 league games and outdistancing South Alabama by five games. Five games.

And now Davis is likely headed to the NIT. So is Pikiell -- again.

It's just not logical. That a three-day span holds more value than a three-month span, that the conference tournament crown far outweighs a regular-season title. Poor Pikiell has gone a combined 41-7 in America East play in 2010, 2012 and this season -- and he still hasn't gone dancing in March. Middle Tennessee was 19-1 in league play, but lost to Richard Pitino's Florida International team in the league semifinals on Sunday night and saw its dreams of dancing disappear.

Something needs to be altered. I'm not sure of the specifics, but my partner on SiriusXM's Inside College Basketball put forth the most logical suggestion I've heard -- and even Belmont's Rick Byrd agreed.

Here's the proposal. It's fairly simple. If you win the regular-season title, yet fail to win the conference tourney, there is a rubber match between the two teams. It basically gives the team that dominated throughout the entire season another chance for the automatic bid. The winner of the so-called playoff game goes to the NCAA tourney and the loser still gets an NIT bid.

"It makes sense and is fair," Byrd told me on Sunday shortly after winning both the regular-season and league title yet again.

I haven't completely thought it through on how it would work pragmatically, especially from the TV angle. When do the games take place? Where is it played? But those logistics can be figured out by people smarter than I, so that a three-month body of work can reward the right team, and give the Middle Tennessee States and the Stony Brooks another opportunity to show they belong. That one bad game, or one injury, or foul won't define the entire season. No one enjoys a Cinderella story more than this writer, but the Stony Brooks and Middle Tennessees still don glass slippers when they make their way into the big dance.

The system has failed poor Tommy Brenton, Stony Brook's star. He has led the Seawolves to three consecutive regular-season titles (he was hurt and didn't play in 2010-11) and won't ever be able to say he played in the NCAA tournament. He has helped his program flat-out dominate the league this past season, winning the America East by three games over Vermont and Boston University. Now Brenton will watch the Catamounts play a 9-7 Albany team in the championship contest on Saturday morning with an NCAA berth on the line.

That's just wrong.

 
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