This year, Illinois State finished with a 24-9 overall record, with an 11-7 mark in the Missouri Valley Conference. Fellow MVC team Creighton finished at 26-7 and 14-4 in the conference. Northern Iowa won the MVC tournament, in overtime, by three points. Which one of these teams deserves to go to the NCAA tournament?
Of course, you already know which one went: Northern Iowa. Illinois State wasn't even in the tourney discussion, and Creighton was one of many bubble teams left out, meaning that a conference that has repeatedly seen its teams streak to the Sweet Sixteen in March would send only one squad -- the one that got hottest at conference tournament time.
Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich is angry at that system, and he's not afraid who knows it:
"The trend right now is that we're moving toward eliminating as many non-BCS [conference schools] as we can from this tournament," Jankovich said Monday. "That's the discouraging thing to me." "What's very frustrating is to listen to the criticism that Creighton took, that we all take. You can never satisfy that. We can never get the Lakers on our schedule three times a year. It's not going to happen. So if that's the criteria, we cannot win that game."
What Jankovich is talking about here is the criticism Creighton and others received for weak schedules. The problem with that criticism, at least according to mid-major coaches, is that they can't entirely be blamed for their schedule because major schools won't play them. Why would they? What good would it do Kansas -- the example given in the story -- to go to a place like Creighton or Illinois State or St. Mary's and lose? It's much safer to play early season cupcakes and rack up wins and let the smaller schools bury themselves come conference time.
And Jankovich is right: It's not a fair system. Unfortunately, it's the only one we've got, and it's the NCAA's baby, which means it's corrupt. It sucks. But it's better than almost anything else out there, too.
Someone always gets screwed in sports. Unfortunately, that someone is always the little guy.
Eamonn Brennan is a Chicago-based writer, editor and blogger who wishes Osiris Eldridge was in the tournament. You can also read him at Yahoo! Sports, FanHouse, Mouthpiece Sports Blog, and Inside The Hall, or at his personal site, eamonnbrennan.com. Follow him on Twitter.