A teary-eyed Mitchell Solomon had a hard time letting the words spill from his mouth. Disbelief? Sure. Shock? Probably. Angry? Perhaps. Disappointed? More than likely.
“All of the above. I’m feeling everything,” the senior forward said Sunday after Oklahoma State missed out on the NCAA Tournament.
Oklahoma State was one of many programs grappling with their emotions on Selection Sunday, the harsh reality of a sport where postseason inclusion is left for an elite number of teams (36 at-large selections) and a group of automatic qualifiers (32).
Life on the bubble isn’t fun. It’s confusing, too. A team like Oklahoma State had a mile-high RPI of 86 — teams rarely above the high 60s make the field — but a resume of five quadrant 1 wins, including two over eventual No. 1 seed Kansas, told a different story.
“While we’re disappointed, we certainly feel like we were worthy of being included,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton said on Monday’s postseason Big 12 conference call. “We understand there were probably some more things we could have controlled better. We didn’t necessarily do those things.”
Nit-picking the selection process and decisions made by the 10-member committee is as predictable as Monday morning quarterbacking during football season.
So what improvements, if any, can be made? CNHI polled several Big 12 coaches Monday, with answers varying from more transparency to radical changes like Baylor coach Scott Drew’s proposal of expanding the field from 68 to 96 teams.
“If we could raise that up, that’s what I would be in favor of. It’s just one extra game, and the great thing is the NCAA Tournament makes money,” Drew said. “People want to go to those games. They aren’t 40-point blowouts like they were 20 years ago when No. 1 played No. 16. There’s a lot of excitement and a lot of parity, so winning seven instead of six is something definitely doable.”
Drew isn’t politicking for every team to receive a participation trophy, rather he’s more interested in rewarding the student-athletes.
As it stands now, just 19 percent of Division I players (68 of 351 teams) make the Big Dance. Drew compared that to 62 percent of Football Bowl Subdivision football players (80 of 129 teams) that play in bowl games.
Drew said feasibility isn’t an issue, either, noting the addition of 28 teams would add just one more game to the tournament. He has supporters, too.
“At the core of everything, you get back to the players. College basketball is about the players,” said Texas Tech coach Chris Beard. “The NCAA is about the student-athletes. I would think to allow more guys to participate in it would only be positive.”
This isn’t the first time, or last, a 96-team field has been discussed. In 2010, a proposal appeared to gain traction as the first major tournament overhaul since 1985 when the field moved to 64 teams. But a new TV deal with CBS/Turner in 2011 thwarted any change, likely tabling the discussion until the current contract runs out in 2031-32.
Kansas State coach Bruce Weber called expansion both a win-win and a no-brainer, adding it could help alleviate some of the black eye issues around the game with allegations of agents and shoe companies funneling money to players.
“People have asked what we can do to help college basketball with possible FBI and all the scandal and recruiting and stuff,” Weber said. “To me, part of the whole thing is pressure getting in the NCAA Tournament with coaches, with keeping their jobs and I think it leads to some of the situations that are happening in college basketball.”
In the short term, Big 12 coaches appear interested in incremental changes to the selection process.
RPI remained a talking point after Middle Tennessee and USC were left out with numbers of 33 and 34, respectively. West Virginia coach Bob Huggins is a proponent of using more than one indicator to judge teams.
“You take four or five and you add them together and I think you would probably get a different result with what teams were ranked ahead of other teams,” he said. “I just think it’d be more fair.”
This year, the committee placed an emphasis on road wins, strength of schedule and records against tournament teams. Huggins argued how some components share similar characteristics since 50 percent of RPI is opponents’ strength of schedule.
While the committee mentioned overall strength of schedule, Beard remained perplexed as to why Oklahoma State and Baylor were left out. Oklahoma State had a poor non-conference strength of schedule of 277, but the strength of the Big 12 helped the Cowboys finished with an SOS of 50. Baylor finished at 21.
“I think the more transparent the process is, the more we can all adjust,” Beard said. “When they tell us things like strength of schedule is important or this and that, as coaches we try to do those things and then when you still don’t get in like in our league Baylor and Oklahoma State. These are definitely two of the top 68 teams in the country, there’s no doubt about it.”