"Rants and Raves" is an open forum for coaches to discuss topics, ranging from issues to observations on the state of college basketball and beyond.
 
 
Not Credible?
By Rick Byrd, Belmont

>>> San Diego's Brad Holland rants on the Mid-Major Top 25

It has come to my attention that several stories have been written lately questioning the validity of any mid-major poll. Since collegeinsider.com’s is the first and most prominent such poll, it seems to be the target of some of these “basketball experts”. I am surprised and somewhat disappointed that a poll that serves so many programs so well can be considered anything but a positive thing for college basketball. Commentaries and editorials are simply someone’s opinion, but I wonder who the mid-major poll really hurts? The answer, I think, is no one. But it sure helps the vast majority of Division I schools that lack national attention.

Controversy is an element that will always exist in sports. It drives the discussion and helps to pen the columns. Surely sports talk radio would not exist without it. Varying opinions are what fuel the debates. And while there can be a debate as to what exactly defines a mid-major; the word controversy should never be included in any such discussion. Furthermore, the idea that the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 is not credible is inaccurate.

There are several programs, Gonzaga most prominently among them that have consistently cracked the top 40 or 50 RPI mark, giving them reason to market their schools as a national contender and ask to opt out of the “mid-major” category. The problem becomes when deciding how to define “mid-majors” and the only practical way is to categorize them by conference affiliation.

As chairman of the Mid-Major Top 25 voting panel, perhaps my most important duty is to communicate with my fellow coaches on evaluation process and possible improvements. Like Bob Marlin (2004), Dave Magarity (2003) and Seth Greenberg (2002) before me, I view it as a big responsibility. I have had some great dialogue with other voters and lengthy discussions with the CollegeInsider.com brass on how we can make the Mid-Major poll even better. But, except for changes in the voting panel, there has not been a single change made to the system already in place. The changes in the voting panel have been because of the increased interest among coaches in becoming a voter.

The big issue and fair question is: what teams are mid-major teams? Or, what teams are not? It seems to collegeinsider.com and to me that the only way to determine a school’s status is by conference affiliation. If not, trying to decide which MAC, MVC, or WCC team should be mid-major and which one’s should be a major would change yearly if not weekly. And what about Vermont this year, or Valparaiso another year?

Perception has fueled the discussion as to what leagues should and shouldn’t be classified as mid-major. Since its inception six years ago, the Mid-Major Top 25 has not included the following ten conferences: ACC, Atlantic 10, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, C-USA, Mountain West, Pac-10, SEC and WAC.

The thankless task of determining what conferences would and would not be deemed mid-major was reserved for CollegeInsider.com’s Joe Dwyer. Joe spent a lot of time compiling information and speaking with many coaches, but ultimately the final decision rested with him. Six years later it is hard to argue with his conclusions.

Those opposed to the current definition of Mid-Major conferences will point out that Gonzaga’s conference (WCC) is ranked No. 7 in the RPI. However in the six-year history of the Mid-Major Top 25, the WCC has never finished in the Top 10 of the RPI. In fact on only two occasions has a conference, classified as mid-major, finished in the RPI’s Top 10. In 2003 the Missouri Valley Conference finished No. 10 and in 2000 the Mid-American Conference finished No. 9. In both cases the WAC finished outside the Top 10.

Since neither the coaches nor CollegeInsider.com has any control over the RPI, I think it illustrates the accuracy of what is and is not a mid-major. In recent years, Gonzaga has been a high-major team, but their conference affiliation is of the mid-major variety. That is not a bad thing. It is simply an outstanding team that plays in a mid-major conference. Some will still argue that a conference like the West Coast Conference is better than a league like the Mountain West, but every argument should be supported with facts and these are the numbers for the past five seasons:

 

Year

# of Mid-Majors in
final RPI Top 10

# of High-Majors not in
final Top 10

Exception

       
2004 0 0  
2003 1 1 MVC 10, WAC 13
2002 0 0  
2001 0 0  
2000 1 1 MAC 9, WAC 12


If anything, Gonzaga carries the flag for all the programs outside the power conferences. Mark Few, and Dan Fitzgerald and Don Monson before him, have proven that you can take a smaller profile program to another level. If there is a point to be made here it’s that Gonzaga made people take a harder look at all the smaller schools.

The most important thing is that there is nothing bad about the Mid-Major Top 25. It doesn’t hurt anybody. It’s actually a rare thing in sports when there is a ratings system that doesn’t have an adverse effect on any team. Some may still choose to argue that point, but I really doubt that being ranked as the top team, among the mid-major programs, has ever really hurt any team, in recruiting or any other area.

I also would disagree with the notion that the best programs in the mid-major category should not be grouped with teams from the bottom tier of Division I conferences. Belmont, Birmingham-Southern, Pacific and all teams better or worse are already grouped by the NCAA with traditional powers like Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, etc. and we play in the same national tournament if we qualify. Any grouping is going to have traditional powers and perennial cupcakes. So is the CollegeInsider.com’s mid-major poll. No different definition of this poll would change that. I will welcome the day that Belmont has to deal with the problems that come with being the No. 1 mid-major in the country. Right now, I can’t see any problems with that.

Arguments can be made as to what a mid-major is, but it is hard to argue the validity of the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25. If a school does not want to be included and considers their school above the label of mid-major, that is simply a difference of opinion but it does not render the Top 25 poll invalid.

I completely understand the idea that the top mid-majors want to sell their program as one that can compete with teams from the power conferences. No coach can fault that approach, especially those of us outside the power conferences as we all aspire to follow the road paved by Gonzaga and others. I don’t know any coach that doesn’t respect and even envy what they have done, but I also know a whole lot of coaches that embrace what CollegeInsider.com has done to promote our programs. It’s a valuable tool, which has helped to bring positive exposure to a lot of schools. Anything that helps to bring national attention to a smaller school can only be viewed as positive.

And by the way, inclusion in one poll doesn’t mean exclusion from another. Last season Utah State spent a few weeks ranked in the AP and USAToday/ESPN polls. At the same time they remained a solid No. 2 in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25. Utah State continued to promote the fact that they were among the nation’s elite as well as being at the top of the mid-major group. And most importantly, being ranked in the national polls did not prompt Utah State head coach Stew Morrill to resign his voting position with the Mid-Major Top 25.

It should be pointed out that Coach Morrill was eager to become a voter. Here is a man that has been a head coach for 19 seasons and has done a phenomenal job. The fact that he wanted to be a voter should say a lot about the validity and credibility of the Mid-Major Top 25. And that goes for every single member of the voting panel. We all take it very seriously.

Recently the Washington Post, known more for its political insight, had a nice story on the topic of mid-majors and it included some remarks from Jim Larranaga (George Mason) who is among the 31 voters. Unfortunately, that was one of the very few examples of journalism that didn’t question its place in the world of college basketball. And, for those of us outside the power conferences, its place is very much appreciated.

Rick Byrd is the Chairman of the Mid-Major Top 25 Voting Panel for the 2004-05 season.