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March Madness not the same

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, March 17, 2004

It’s not the end of the world. Our lives will move on. It’s only a game. There’s always next year.

Sure, we can tell ourselves all the Dr. Phil-inspired self-help clichés to ease the pain, but no words can completely take away the stinging emptiness. March just isn’t the same this year. Not with our beloved Fighting Irish missing out on the euphoric Madness that is sweeping across 65 other college campuses right now.

Since this is a sports commentary, what’s a few more unimaginative clichés between me and you? Cut me some slack here; I’m still recovering from spring break, and I really can’t think of any more creative ways to get my point across. Besides, clichés never hurt anybody. They’re just the sign of a boring writer. But that’s our little secret. So don’t tell nobody! (Don’t tell nobody about the double negative either.)

Maybe, this bitter pill would be a little easier to swallow if Notre Dame had a losing record or played in a lesser-known conference like the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), where typically only the conference tournament champion earns a bid. But Notre Dame, with a record of 17-12, does not fall under either of these categories. Thus, we’re left with another cliché to describe our fate. Life’s not fair. Yeah, no kidding. No matter how much those self-proclaimed “bracketologists” want to defend the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee and their precious mathematical formulas, there was nothing fair about Notre Dame missing the Big Dance this year. Call me biased if you want, but the facts of this case are indisputable.

First and foremost, the Irish do not compete in the little, mid-sized or slightly above average East. They compete in the Big East – emphasis on the word “Big” – and Notre Dame still finished with a winning 9-7 record even though they were the only team to play Connecticut, Pittsburgh and defending national champion Syracuse twice each. For that matter, Notre Dame played the most difficult schedule of any team left out of the field and far more difficult than many of the at-large teams who earned bids.

Once again, though, for unknown reasons, the NCAA Selection Committee has slighted the premier conference in the country not just by rejecting Notre Dame, but also giving Big East teams the lousiest draws in the tournament. Yeah, yeah, all the sports know-it-alls like to say the ACC is the toughest conference. But in the past four years, Big East teams have claimed just as many titles as the over-hyped ACC – two each. Yet all that Connecticut, the Big East regular season and tournament conference champion, can muster is a lousy two seed. Meanwhile, everyone’s perennial favorite, Duke, who has an equal number of wins as Connecticut, still garnered a No. 1 seed despite losing the ACC Championship game to a Maryland team that until last weekend was in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament altogether. Pittsburgh, the runner-up in the Big East Tournament by one point, drops to a ridiculous No. 3 seed and gets shipped out to play in Milwaukee, where they will likely meet hometown favorite Wisconsin in the second round.

Along these same lines, the NCAA sent Syracuse, Providence, Boston College and Seton Hall miles away from their regional fan base. Equally as dumbfounding, none of these teams earned a seed above five. Meanwhile, Wake Forest and N.C. State, despite stumbling down the stretch, earned No. 4 seeds and get to play their first round games in Raleigh and Orlando respectively. What gives?

Forget the ACC though. What’s with Conference USA earning six bids, the Atlantic 10 earning four, and the Mountain West earning three? With their recent success in the tournament, the mid-major conferences certainly deserve more at-large bids, but not at the expense of more worthy teams with winning records in the power conferences like Notre Dame.

I’m not saying UAB, Richmond, UTEP, DePaul, Air Force and BYU should not be in the tournament. But if they are going to be included, so should Notre Dame. There’s not enough space to present a comparison between Notre Dame and each of these aforementioned teams to explain why the Irish are a more appropriate selection, so let’s just break down two.

Air Force v. Notre Dame: At 22-6, Air Force has an impressive overall record, and to their credit, they were the regular season champions of the Mountain West Conference. But the Falcons best wins came against Utah and their only notable non-conference win was against a weak California team. For what it’s worth, not that those top-secret rating systems are worth much, Notre Dame boasts a higher RPI, allegedly the most influential of all the rankings, than Air Force. The Irish also boast a considerably higher RPI than late-season charger Washington, but that’s a whole different story.

Richmond v. Notre Dame: Richmond reached the magic number of 20 wins, but they finished fourth in the six-team Western Division of the Atlantic 10 behind George Washington, a team that did not even qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Richmond did beat Kansas on the road during the regular season, but the Jayhawks might be the most overrated team in the tournament considering they did not defeat one top-25 team all season. (If you’re looking for a first round upset, University of Illinois-Chicago over Kansas might be a safe bet.) Richmond has an RPI only one higher than Notre Dame, but their schedule was in a different stratosphere than the Spiders’, which puts the Irish over the top.

Comparing these teams, though, is an exercise in speculation. Truthfully, the Irish have only themselves to blame for their predicament.

With one or two more wins, they never would have been on the bubble in the first place. But this still does not negate the fact that Notre Dame got robbed, jobbed, hosed and a bunch of other potty words not fit to print.

You can sugarcoat it and try to put a positive spin on it all you want, but the NIT is like taking your friend Katie to the prom. Sure, you’ll still have a good time, but you’d have a better time with Elena, that hot girl you had a crush on for four years of high school but never could find the courage to ask out.

Joe Licandro is a senior political science major. His column appears every other Wednesday. He can be contacted at jlicandr@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.