Redhawks Red-Faced: Miami Screwed Again by the NCAA

For reasons that are unknown and still understandable, the NCAA men's basketball tournament selection committee refuses to release its Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) to the public. After all, the

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Jerry Dowling

For reasons that are unknown and still understandable, the NCAA men's basketball tournament selection committee refuses to release its Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) to the public. After all, the committee would never be able to explain its decisions.

A week ago, we picked Miami University as a lock, if barely, for the NCAA Tournament. Entering the conference tournaments, the Redhawks were 30th in basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy's RPI duplication and 28th in a duplication wired out by the Associated Press. They held 28th in ESPN's final rendition and 29th in basketball statistician Warren Nolan's final dupe.

Anyway, Sunday evening came and went with Miami left off the 65-team bracket. As it turned out, the Redhawks finished with the best RPI of the teams omitted, so far as anyone outside the committee knows. Once again, the athletes from Oxford are sacrificed for major conference avarice and prejudice. But this is worse.

Recall the 2003 football season, when the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) computers ranked Miami sixth.

But poll voters, with no idea about Ben Rothlisberger, voted the Redhawks down and left Miami out of the BCS riches. At least, though, the football system all but admits up front to being bigoted against mid-major conferences.

College basketball maintains a pretense of fairness to the mid-majors, yet Miami still finds itself out of the NCAA Tournament. What happened?

Those who prefer the college football system to the college basketball system, like yours truly, will love this. Many others curse the BCS, but at least the BCS rankings are transparent. The BCS simply publishes them.

Meanwhile, those who try to duplicate the RPI are stuck with clues. Earlier this season, the selection committee announced an adjustment in its computation, dividing out winning percentages after counting each road win and and home loss as 1.4 instead of 1 and weighting road losses and home wins at .6 instead of 1. But the committee didn't say how the computation would be applied.

The duplicators assumed the new values would sensibly be applied across the RPI formula. It was revealed last week on, however, that all the duplicators were wrong, because the new weights were applied only to each team's winning percentage but not to the strength of schedule components.

Thus, discussions throughout the media concerning the at-large prospects for mid-major conferences were falsely pretensed and the perceived new advantages for mid-major conferences, particularly Miami's Mid-American Conference, were minimized.

Pomeroy told last Saturday that Ohio, Akron and Kent State all fell out of the top 60 under the revised calculation, while Buffalo dropped from 27th to 43rd and Miami fell from 29th to 44th. By Saturday night, after Ohio beat Buffalo in the MAC Tournament title game, Miami rose ahead of Buffalo to 43rd.

Pomeroy and, by the way, were the only dupe makers to factor in the new info, which accounts for the disparity between their standings and the others. The Redhawks came in 39th on the final reading.

We figured a week ago that the Redhawks could only miss the NCAA Tournament if about 15 teams passed them in the final week. And that's pretty close to what happened, though it mostly happened in the computers and not on the courts.

On the courts, tournament upsets in the Mountain West, Missouri Valley and Big West conferences netted each of those leagues an extra bid. As it turned out, Miami's semifinal loss to Ohio in the MAC Tournament meant more than Miami's regular season MAC title. Then Charlotte, St. Mary's, Texas, Florida, Georgia Tech, Northern Iowa, Stanford, Texas Tech, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Texas-El Paso and Iowa all blew past Miami in Pomeroy's RPI.

After all that, it figured Miami still should be one of the last three or four teams in the dance. Inexplicably, though, the committee snubbed Miami in favor of Alabama-Birmingham (Pomeroy RPI 49th), Iowa State (63rd) and North Carolina State (65th).

Between those four, only Iowa State finished strong, eight wins in its last 10 games. Miami and UAB each lost five of the last 10, while North Carolina State lost six of its last 12. UAB carded not a single win against a top 50 team.

Lots of people connected with college basketball like to say this is the best time of the year. They're wrong. It's the only time of the year. Once again, the regular season's irrelevance comes to call, rewarding Miami's MAC championship with a consolation NIT bid.

College football takes its raps for refusing playoffs. But college football gives us the most meaningful regular season of any major spectator sport, three months of crucial games. Meanwhile, everyone loves this college basketball system, three months of total hogwash before any game means anything.

Before taking his Texas Tech team to the Big 12 Tournament championship game, Bobby Knight made sure to register his dislike for the conference tournament system. It doesn't take a Knight fan to agree with him.

Miami coach Charlie Coles wonders what the MAC regular season championship means anymore. He made the point, rightly, that three games in three days of a conference tournament isn't the appropriate measure of a college basketball team. Why play all those regular season games, he asked. Good question.

Here's a better question: Why not scrap the conference tournaments and replace them with an additional couple rounds of the NCAA Tournament that would include everyone? Many commentators think that's a bad idea and the present system is a good idea.

Of course, the present system is a good idea for the major conferences, who rake in big dollars from their conference tournaments. The smaller leagues are forced to play along, breaking even on their tournaments if they're lucky, because it's their only chance of angling more than one team into the NCAA Tournament.

And even that didn't work out this year for the MAC, where Miami and Buffalo are worthy of joining the field with tournament champ Ohio. But only Ohio is in the chase now, because the league is strong enough that no one team can dominate its regular season.

No university in the United States is more thoroughly screwed than Miami by the mechanisms of big-time college sports. Miami is the bell cow school in a league with limited geographic exposure, basically the eastern Great Lakes. Two consecutive years of major sports snubs might call for some kind of repositioning, either by the MAC or just by Miami. Then again, we don't suppose Miami is too worried about it.

With Miami left out by the committee, Ohio State taking itself out, Xavier unable to play its way in and Indiana omitted with a 15-13 record against a tough schedule, the tournament comes to us now with precious little local flavor. Direct from the Tristate, which rightly claims to be the epicenter of college basketball, we're down to Cincinnati, Kentucky and Louisville.

And under a best-case scenario, only two of them will make it to the Sweet 16, for UC and UK are set up to meet in the second round if form holds. But that game is all it would take for a memorable NCAA Tournament in the college basketball capital.

UC and UK haven't met since a 1990 game at the Shoemaker Center. It roils UC people about the way it roiled Louisville people when Kentucky used to chicken out of scheduling the Cardinals. Now the selection committee has done a good deed, setting up UC-UK, much as it did in 1983 when it set up UK and U of L to meet in the NCAA Tournament.

The two Kentucky schools hadn't played since the 1959 NCAA Tournament. But they began a regular season series in 1983-84 — their first regular season meeting in 61 years — and they've met annually ever since in one of the game's showcase rivalries.

The same could happen with UC-UK. If only.

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