Really, Bob?

I liked it better in the old days, when Bob Knight used to sarcastically refer to Billy Packer as "the Mastermind."  Now, Knight is sharing the stage with Billy Packer and spouting Packeresque boilerplate about the NCAA Tournament selection process.  Here's what he said:

There are a lot of times when I thought the Big Ten deserved six, seven, eight teams but this certainly isn’t one of them,” Knight said. “As I’ve watched Big Ten basketball this year I don’t think they’re anywhere close to the Big East or the Atlantic Coast Conference. I think they’re a long way from both of those conferences.

Certainly, I don't mean to single out IU's legendary old coach.  This has been a nearly universal talking point in the last couple of weeks, as it became clear that most Big Ten teams would make the Tournament.  It's infuriating.  This is the first time, probably ever, that any of us have seen an NCAA selection show without Billy Packer.  And without fail, Billy Packer would always have a sequence that went something like this (note: exaggerated and not a direct quote, but true in essence):

Billy Packer: Hey, what's with the Big Ten getting 7 bids?  The conference isn't nearly as strong as the ACC!

Selection Committee chair: Well, Billy, the number of bids received by a conference isn't supposed to be a statement about a conference's strength.  We judge each team on its own merits: record, strength of schedule, record against top teams, performance in the last  ten games, and a variety of things.  We don't use a quota system.

Billy Packer:  Oh.  Hey, what's with the ACC only getting 5 bids?  The conference is much stronger than the Big Ten!

Selection Committee chair: Well, Billy, the number of bids received by a conference isn't supposed to be a statement about a conference's strength.  We judge each team on its own merits: record, strength of schedule, record against top teams, performance in the last ten games, and a variety of things.  We don't use a quota system.

Billy Packer: Oh.  Hey, what's with the SEC only getting three bids?  The conference is much stronger than the Big Ten.

Every single year Billy would have the same conversation with whatever soul was so unfortunate as to chair the committee.  Every year, the answer was the same, and every year, Billy failed to learn it.  This is very simple.  The Selection Committee does not select teams by conference.  It selects teams based on resume.  This year, the Big Ten, even middle-of-the-pack Big Ten teams, played well in the non-conference: Michigan State beat Kansas, Michigan beat Duke and UCLA, Minnesota beat Louisville, Ohio State beat Butler, Illinois beat Missouri, and Northwestern beat Florida State.  These wins not only enhanced the resumes of the teams that won those games, but also elevated the Big Ten's overall rating and enhanced the value of any given Big Ten win. 

If critics want the Selection Committee to do its job differently, then by all means, advocate for a "conference quota system."  It would be stupid and unworkable, but at least that would be an honest suggestion.  Such advocacy would be better than pretending that the Selection Committee isn't doing its job.  The committee members are following what they understand to be their mandate.

Another danger seems to be the inclination toward "the eyeball test."  People don't seem to like the Big Ten's style of play.  This includes many Big Ten fans.  But I like the idea of assigning bids based on objective accomplishments, not how much the committee likes watching particular teams play.  It seems that a less objective system would result in more bids and better seeds for the royalty of college basketball and would, perhaps unwittingly, put weight on previous accomplishents rather than in the season at hand.  The current system, with its focus on resume, seems to be the most fair and efficient. 

I have no dog in the fight this year.  IU was nowhere near the tournament, and I'm not a conference-kumbaya guy: I'll root for or against whomever the hell I choose.  But the dishonesty and stupidity surrounding this debate fires me up, even this year.

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