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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 14, 2006

WAC has to follow dance steps

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

As soon as they finished applauding the Missouri Valley Conference's NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament breakthrough, Western Athletic Conference members should have started passing around the blueprint.

What the MVC has done by placing a record four of its teams in the Big Dance is draw the WAC and other so-called fellow "mid-major" conferences a road map to the postseason promised land.

The MVC has taken the NCAA selection committee at its word and worked an imperfect system to near perfection, much to the annoyance of many of the power conferences. Indeed, there was the MVC coming out of the selection process with as many teams each as the Atlantic Coast Conference, Pac-10 or Big 12. In the process, the MVC elbowed out Michigan and threw a hip into Maryland, knocking them into the National Invitation Tournament.

Like Utah in Bowl Championship Series football in 2004, the MVC beat the system by playing the system. And, some people think it is hard to win in college basketball by following the rules.

Yet when Selection Sunday came, the MVC had four teams (Northern Iowa, Wichita State, Southern Illinois and Bradley) picked and another (Missouri State) on the bubble. Overall, six of its 10 teams are either in the NCAA or NIT. And, how many people outside the heartland can even name half that many MVC members?

This while the WAC was fortunate to get three in postseason (two NCAA and one NIT). But, then, the MVC understood, as WAC commissioner Karl Benson has been preaching to his far-flung flock for a couple of years now, that it isn't all about Ratings Percentage Index. The MVC mandates, as Benson has counseled, playing a good, not necessarily overwhelming, schedule that piles up victories without fattening up on cupcakes.

"If the (high) majors don't want to play us, we don't need to play them (all on the road)," said Doug Elgin, commissioner of the MVC. "If the (high) major conference teams aren't going to go on the road and play home and home, I think the message amongst ourselves has to be: Don't go on the road for money. Don't be bought. We can play each other."

The MVC has installed penalties that cost members $50,000 per year for playing bottom-feeder schedules and discouraged playing non-Division I teams. This year, for a conference not a whole lot different in membership than the WAC, it paid off in five 20-win teams, one 19-game winner and overall standing as the sixth strongest of the 31 Division I conferences.

A bigger payoff is that the MVC will bank approximately $4.8 million (compared to the WAC's $2.4 million) over the six years of the NCAA payment cycle.

After the MVC's breakthrough, it is a message WAC members need to take to heart sooner rather than later.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.