Sun Belt looks to boost its standing
The Sun Belt Conference will attempt to change its perception with the NCAA tournament selection committee by trying a drastic scheduling maneuver to enhance its power rating.
The Sun Belt will announce Monday afternoon that it will demand all of its teams, beginning in the 2011-12 season, to play non-conference games against teams that have a three-year combined power rating that is within the top 150 or if that school finished with an RPI inside the top 150 in the previous season.
The Sun Belt will also forbid teams from playing non-Division I games and will stress that the member schools should average at least the national average of 5,038 fans a game. The Sun Belt had only one member average 5,000 fans a game over the last five seasons. The league will announce that it will aid in helping to promote attendance as best as it can.
"We're not happy," said Sun Belt Conference commissioner Wright Waters on Sunday night. "Our chief executive officers told us we don't want to be No. 23 [among conferences]."
Winning by itself isn't going to get you higher. You've got to schedule.” -- Wright Water, Sun Belt commissioner
The Sun Belt tried this mechanism once before from 2003 to 2005 and the league's RPI went to No. 12 in 2005.
Last March, Sun Belt champion North Texas earned a No. 15 seed and lost to Kansas State in the first round. Western Kentucky was a No. 12 seed in 2009, knocked off Illinois and then lost to Gonzaga on the final possession of the game. In 2008, the Sun Belt earned two bids with decent seeds as South Alabama received a No. 10 as an at-large, losing to Butler in the first round, and tournament champ Western Kentucky got a 12 seed, reaching the Sweet 16 after beating Drake and San Diego before losing to UCLA. North Texas was the automatic qualifier in 2007 and earned a No. 15 seed and lost to Memphis in the first round. In 2006, South Alabama got a No. 14 and lost to Florida in the first round.
"We talked to all the gurus that deal with the RPI and we believe this concept can work," said Waters. "We consulted with Mike Tranghese (former Big East commissioner and selection committee chair) and he added a few pieces. We also haven't had anyone on the men's basketball committee since 1988 for a full term (Craig Thompson and Lee Fowler had brief stints when they were administrators in the Sun Belt before moving on to higher-profile jobs). We've got to address that too. We've had nominations but we haven't had anyone on there."
Fowler, the former athletic director at NC State, was hired by the Sun Belt to be the league's director of basketball operations. Fowler served on the men's basketball selection committee from 1997-2002 and was the chair in his final season on the committee.
The selection committee is made up of 10 people who can be athletic directors or commissioners. But the NCAA would combat any argument that not having a conference represented shows any bias as selection committee members have to recuse themselves when discussing their own school or league if it is a commissioner.
The RPI demand in non-conference scheduling may also be a moot point, as each school is essentially judged as an independent when the committee is reviewing it for selection or seeding, analyzing the strength of schedule regardless of conference affiliation.
Waters contends, however, that this new take on scheduling is the best move for his conference.
"We think our basketball is better than our numbers show," Waters said. "We know we still have to win. But winning by itself isn't going to get you higher. You've got to schedule."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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