|ESPN.com: College Basketball Nation||[Print without images]|
|"Mid-major" programs such as Xavier, Cornell and Northern Iowa overcame higher-seeded teams from one of the big six BCS conferences to make the Sweet 16.|
No one can identify for sure when exactly the term "mid-major" became a fixture in college basketball, but the 2006 NCAA tournament -- the year George Mason reached the Final Four -- was clearly its boiling point. Years from now, here's hoping we'll similarly look back at the 2010 Dance as the event that rendered said phrase outdated, unnecessary and (this one's a long shot) extinct.
We've been conditioned to believe in some mystical distinction between schools that belong to the six power football leagues and those that don't, even when discussing a completely different sport. But if that's the case, how is it that 11 different conferences will be represented when this year's Sweet 16 commences Thursday night?
College basketball is about money first and foremost, and there are haves, and have-lesses. Don't think budgets matter? Tell it to a school that's had its coach hired away for double his previous salary, or a program that was drubbed in the recruiting game by a bigger school with more money to burn and a name that you can find on the front of sweatshirts at Modell's. Competitive balance has long been a major issue in professional sports -- you don't expect the small-market Rays to hang with the big-bucks Yankees, do you? -- and the NCAA will never, ever have a salary cap or basement. [...] There's a red line at $20 million (a college hoops Mendoza line, if you will), and any conferences with a higher average athletic budget should have all the resources they need with which to recruit top players and hire top coaches and buy wins.