If you are a devoted follower of the Review-Journal’s Sports Shorts, you might have seen the one this week about the Pac-12’s Coast-to-Coast Challenge. Starting in December 2020, three of its men’s basketball teams will be matched against three from another power conference on a rotating basis — in 2020 it will be the Big 12 — at T-Mobile Arena.
Washington will face Oklahoma, which is coached by former UNLV tactician Lon Kruger, with Colorado facing Texas Christian and Oregon against an opponent to be determined. Arizona, Arizona State and Southern California are coming in 2021.
Your first reaction might have been cosmic indifference.
Your second might have been that’s six more games at T-Mobile you probably won’t be attending because tickets will cost too much.
But any way you look at it, it’s six fewer opportunities for a so-called midmajor school such as UNLV to increase its Rating Percentage Index and move up a notch or two in Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology when March Madness begins to brew.
“I have three objectives, and the first is postseason positioning,” UNLV athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois said about nonconference scheduling. “Depending on where the program is and its expected evolution, we look for ways to maximize our chances to get to the postseason.
“The second thing I look for is community-interested competitive matchups. The third thing is current and future student-athlete opportunities. What I mean by that is … (UNLV recruit) Bryce Hamilton is from Pasadena (California). So doing a home-and-home series with UCLA gives him an opportunity to bring his family to Pauley Pavilion.
“When we’re putting together a schedule, it’s beneficial if we’re playing in an area that we recruit.”
So it would seem that all three criteria would line up with a Pac-12-Mountain West Challenge, were such a series available to UNLV. Which it isn’t, because power conferences care not about UNLV’s scheduling strategy or its desire to enhance postseason positioning.
“There are challenges in scheduling,” Reed-Francois said, choosing her words carefully. “Whether or not it’s the Power Five (and those schools’ reluctance to play midmajor schools), facility availability or academic calendars.”
Academic calendars? Who knew the Rebels were interested in scheduling Princeton?
UNLV is the last midmajor to win the national championship (1990) but hasn’t played in the NCAA Tournament since 2013. The Rebels will play Kansas State, California, UCLA and Cincinnati this season as they attempt to regain their national footing.
Despite the recent Final Four charges of Gonzaga, Wichita State, Virginia Commonwealth, Butler and George Mason, midmajor schools are receiving fewer at-large berths these days. This is evidenced by an all-time tournament bid list that shows the Atlantic Coast Conference on top with 397, followed by the Big Ten (309), Southeastern Conference (284), Big 12 (259), Pac-12 and Big East (254 each) and the American Conference (202).
The Atlantic 10, with 153 all-time bids, and the Mountain West with 122 top the midmajors.
Each tournament berth and victory warrants an NCAA “unit” — worth $282,100 in 2020 — which is added to conference units acquired over the previous six tournaments under a complex payout system.
According to those sporting the pocket protectors, Loyola Chicago’s 2018 Final Four run is projected to add $8.45 million to Missouri Valley Conference coffers. NCAA units, in concert with lucrative power conference TV contracts, help finance training centers with barbershops that entice recruits, and this is why high RPIs and at-large tournament berths are crucial to a school’s ability to sustain success.
But with the big boys reluctant to play the smaller ones owing to the little-to-gain, much-to-lose mentality, the gap between the Millionaire Acres teams and those in the Poor House seems on the verge of becoming a chasm.
In the NCAA’s game of Life, the rich get richer, and invite Snoop Dogg and his pole dancers to town for midnight practice.
The not-so-rich schedule Abilene Christian and Eastern Michigan, and yearn for the days when the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge seemed like a good idea.
MWC NCAA bids
(Last tournament appearance in parentheses)
1. Utah State 21 (2019)
2. UNLV 20 (2013)
3. Wyoming 15 (2015)
4. New Mexico 15 (2014)
5. San Diego State 12 (2018)
6. Colorado State 10 (2013)
7. UNR 9 (2019)
8. Boise State 8 (2015)
9. Fresno State 6 (2016)
10. Air Force 4 (2006)
11. San Jose State (1996)