What exactly is a mid-major?

After the 2010 NCAA Tournament bracket was released, there were some that complained about how the committee paired too many mid-majors against each other in the first round.

There are 15 non-BCS schools on seed lines 5-12 in this bracket. Eight of them are playing each other. Thanks, NCAA. Just what the fans want.

If eight are playing each other, there are seven teams that are playing BCS schools. As Larry Brown Sports somewhat correctly points out, part of the reason there are four mid-major/mid-major matchups is because there were several mid-majors that had very good seasons and were rewarded with high seeds:

Moreover, if you’re rewarding the smaller-schools for having good seasons, then you have to give them a high seed, and they will accordingly be matched up with another small school. That’s what happened with New Mexico, Temple, Butler, and Xavier. Drop those teams down in seeding and then you’re really being unfair, but at least you get a mid-major against a BCS school, right? Pointing out the few mid-major vs. mid-major matchups also ignores the several other cases where mid-majors play BCS schools in the first round. So Gonzaga playing Florida State, Xavier getting Minnesota, Notre Dame drawing Old Dominion, BYU getting Florida, Houston drawing Maryland, and San Diego State having a chance to upset Tennessee means nothing?

That’s true to a point, but it’s also about where the BCS schools are seeded. No teams from power conferences are seeded #12, two (Minnesota, Washington) are seeded #11 and are playing one mid-major (Xavier) and one BCS school (Marquette), and three (Missouri, Florida and Georgia Tech) are seeded #10 and are playing two BCS schools (Clemson, Oklahoma St.) and one mid-major (BYU).

Basically, if you’re mid-major was good enough to get a #5 seed (Butler and Temple) you’re going to get a matchup with a mid-major or small school #12 seed (UTEP and Cornell) that the committee doesn’t deem as strong as teams like Minnesota, Washington, Missouri, Florida or Georgia Tech. If you’re Butler or Temple, do you want to play one of those teams in the first round? My guess is that the Bulldogs and the Owls are relatively happy with their matchups (UTEP and Cornell, respectively).

You may have noticed that I differentiated between a team like UTEP and a team like Cornell. All non-BCS conferences are not the same. The term “mid-major” is somewhat ambiguous and quite fluid. I would define a mid-major conference as one that would get one non-automatic bid in the NCAA tournament during a good season (i.e. a non-BCS conference that often gets 2+ bids counting the conference’s automatic bid). Obviously, other factors like program funding, conference-wide attendance and conference revenue could also be considered.

The “mid-major” wiki page lists the following conferences as mid-majors:

* Atlantic 10 Conference (A-10)
* Big West Conference (BWC)
* Colonial Athletic Association (CAA)
* Conference USA (C-USA)
* Horizon League
* Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC)
* Mid-American Conference (MAC)
* Missouri Valley Conference (MVC)
* Mountain West Conference (MWC)
* Ohio Valley Conference (OVC)
* West Coast Conference (WCC)
* Western Athletic Conference (WAC)

A quick look at Jeff Sagarin’s college basketball ratings shows that these 12 conferences occupy spots #7 through #16, with the Big West ranked #18 and the Ohio Valley ranked #22.

My point is that all non-BCS schools aren’t built the same. There are two other groups — mid-majors and small schools — that make up the rest of the conferences and it’s somewhat fluid between the two. So if Cornell upsets Temple, it wouldn’t be one mid-major knocking off the other, it would be a small school (from the Ivy League) knocking off a mid-major power.

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