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Kevin Schnepf, Published April 04 2010

Schnepf: NCAA expansion could have mixed effects for mid-majors

The buzz of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament – which will conclude with Monday night’s championship game – is expansion. Many expect the billion-dollar tournament will grow from the current 65-team format to 96 teams.

Is that good news for

the powerful ruling class or the peons of the college basketball world? Let Greg Kampe, head coach at lower-class Oakland University, try to answer that question.

“I think it depends on why they are expanding it,” said Greg Kampe, whose Summit League championship team from Oakland played in this year’s tournament. “Who will get those 30 extra spots?

“Would we have been guaranteed an at-large spot this year. If that’s the case – when it helps the mid-major team – then of course, I’m all for it. But if it’s to get a 14-14 Big Ten team in the tournament, then I’m not for it.”

Don’t count on The Summit League getting a second team into the tournament just because it is bigger. Picture this year’s NIT field (which didn’t include any Summit teams) basically filling the expanded NCAA Tournament.

After all, the NCAA sponsors the NIT now. And with its 11-year, $6 billion television contract expiring in 2014, the NCAA has been doing its homework in making the tournament even more appealing for television.

“I think the proper thing is to look at all the options and that’s exactly what they are doing,” said Summit League commissioner Tom Douple, who has listened to three NCAA presentations.

One option could have the top 32 seeds receive first-round byes in the expanded tournament. Such a format would give The Summit League representative a much better chance of winning that ever-elusive first-round game.

Instead of playing a No. 3 seed like Oakland did against Pittsburgh this year or like NDSU did against Kansas last year, The Summit rep could face a much-lower seeded opponent in the first round.

The last time a Summit team won an opening-round game was in 1998 when Valparaiso reached the Sweet 16. Yes, Oakland won the 2005 play-in but even Kampe agrees that doesn’t really count as an official opening-round win.

“It all depends on your seed and I think we got screwed on the seed this year,” Kampe said.

Despite its impressive RPI ranking of 52, Oakland got a No. 14 seed. Eight teams with worse RPI ranks equaled or bettered a No. 14 seed. That includes Ohio, which got a 14 seed even with a 95 RPI ranking and a fifth-place finish in the Mid-American Conference or Houston, which got a 13 seed even with a 110 RPI and seventh-place finish in Conference USA.

Right now, there is just no love for The Summit League. And there probably shouldn’t be, considering it has been shut out in its last 12 official opening-round games.

Take away Southern Utah’s 2001 three-point opening-round loss and NDSU’s 10-point opening-round loss to Kansas last year, Summit League teams have lost their last 12 first-round games by an average score of 83-61.

It’s a far cry from what mid-majors like Butler, Northern Iowa, Cornell and St. Mary’s accomplished this year.

“The top teams in our league are comparable,” Kampe argues. “Our bottom teams have to get better.”

“Winning an opener … that’s our next step,” Douple said. “And getting a second team in the tournament.”

He may have to settle for one out of two.

Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549 or at kschnepf@forumcomm.com