Posted on: March 23, 2010 9:18 pm

Dusty Chalk and the Return of the Mid-Major

After a few year hiatus, it would appear that the mid-majors are back and relevant again. They must be. How else can we explain UNI, the Missouri Valley regular season and conference champ taking down national powerhouse and tournament overall #1 seed Kansas? And what about Cornell? They picked off the Atlantic 10 regular season and conference champion Temple...then put a whooping on Bo Ryan's Badgers of Wisconsin! 
Let's also not forget about Ohio University taking down Georgetown, Murray State racing past Vanderbilt, and St. Mary's taming the Villanova Wildcats with a ringmaster named Omar.
So it's safe to say that true parity is alive and well in the land of college hoops, right? And it's about time - because we were getting sick of all that dusty chalk remaining into the Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final 4, and championship game.
But wait a minute...something's not adding up here. Are the mid-majors getting better...or are the big conferences getting worse? Or maybe it has something to do with the tournament seeding. Maybe it's a combination of all of these.
The simple answer is, YES, there is more parity in the overall landscape of Division 1 NCAA basketball. This is due to a number of factors including:
  • The reduced number of scholarships given out to each school
  • The number of "one-and-done" talents leaving for the NBA after one year and costing their school that scholarship for 3 more years
  • The increased television coverage of mid-major programs like Gonzaga, Butler, Western Kentucky, and VCU along with their respective conferences and cohorts
  • The success of teams like Davidson and George Mason in the NCAA tournament's recent history

The above elements aid in distributing the national basketball talent among a wider range of schools...and weakening some of the perennial powerhouses. 

But here's the issue...with all this evidence supporting the idea that the college basketball landscape is leveling off, it doesn't explain how the basketball rich are remaining rich.

Let's be honest, the NCAA still remains very much top heavy. Look at the number 1 seeds in this year's tournament: Kansas, Syracuse, Kentucky, and Duke. While respectfully excusing Syracuse, you're looking at three of the most dominant programs in the history of college basketball...and Syracuse in their own right has an incredible basketball tradition. The bottom line is that teams like Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Duke will continue to remain head and shoulders above the rest of college basketball by and large. So what, UNC was bad this year - they still had more HS all-americans than any other team. And they'll be adding more next year.

Furthermore, the loss to UNI by Kansas in the tournament means nothing. Kansas had a bad night. They're still much better than UNI and probably beat UNI 8 or 9 times out of 10 tries. We all know anything can happen in a single elimination tournament. And many of the "upsets" that occur come at the hands of teams that were severely mis-seeded. For example, UNI and Cornell were top 25 teams for the majority of this season, so why would UNI get a 9 seed and Cornell a 12? If they're top 25 teams, how can you rank 32 and 44 teams ahead of them respectively in the tournament? 

Asides from Kansas and Nova, all the other 1 and 2 seeds remain in the tournament...so much of the chalk is still prevailing. And I would love to see the day where it's not unusual for a 15 or 16 seed to win their first round matchup, but that day is not coming anytime soon. 
As long as the big time coaches are getting big time money to coach at big time schools who get big time money from the television networks to air their big time games, the mid-majors can only hope to carve out a small piece of respect by taking out a Big East or Big 12 or ACC giant in the NCAA tournament. But you know what, the top 10 HS prospects are still gonna sign with a handful of schools.

So here's to parity (except when talking about the very top teams year after year).
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com