Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.
Navigating the world of mid-major basketball is a daunting task for not only the average fan, but any college hoops fan. There are numerous smaller conferences and teams throughout the nation that receive little if any media coverage; most of these conferences are a complete mystery when sifting through who the dominant teams are come tournament time. I realize it is hard to get excited about a Colgate vs. Army game on a Wednesday night in January at Cotterell Court in Hamilton, NY, but there are certain years where a team from a smaller conference—like the Patriot League, for example—comes out of nowhere and catches the entire nation by surprise (see: Cornell in 2009-10). In recent years, however, many of these mid-majors have proven to be not so “mid” after all—they are often every bit as strong as the perennial powers throughout the nation. In writing my weekly column, The Other 26, I hope to shed some much-needed light on those teams from the non-BCS conferences. If North Carolina happens to be your team, then you will obviously follow the Tar Heels, the teams who comprise the ACC, and some of the other BCS teams. If you do not have a particular team to follow, then you will most likely strictly pay attention to the “big boys”—the teams who play in the six major conferences (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC). Yet, there are still 26 other conferences out there (plus the Independent teams) who deserve some attention too. Here at Rush the Court this season, I hope to steer you through the complex world of mid-major hoops each and every Friday.
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Before delving into some of the most impressive mid-major squads, players, and conferences, it is imperative that I answer a question that will be frequently asked: “What classifies a team as a mid-major?” Kyle Whelliston, the college basketball guru for mid-major teams and founder/author of midmajority.com, is a reliable and accurate source when discussing mid-major hoops; he may have put it best when deciphering what classifies a conference that way. Whelliston uses what he calls the “Red Line” to distinguish what conferences are considered are mids, and what ones are not. The red line divides those whose teams have an average annual athletic budget of more than $20 million and those below that threshold. Consequently, there are eight conferences that he classifies as “major”—the aforementioned six conferences plus the Mountain West and Conference USA, while he refers to the remaining conferences as mid-majors.
Even with Whelliston’s commonsense definition of a mid-major, there are still other definitions to classify the non-BCS schools. Everyone has an opinion on this. To some, any team that lies outside of the aforementioned six major conferences is deemed a mid-major. For others, the basketball emergence of conferences such as the Atlantic 10, Mountain West and Conference USA has catapulted them to major status. Others believe that if a conference averages less than two bids to the NCAA Tournament over a period of time (a decade? a generation?), then they should be categorized as a mid-major. Still others think that a mid-major is any team that plays in an run-down arena where there isn’t a light show while introducing the home team’s starting lineups.
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