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|Mid-major? Or something more?|
Is the Missouri Valley ready to shed its mid-major label?
Well, it depends on the ever-confusing definition of the term.
When asked what his definition is, Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage, the chair of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, said a mid-major conference is one that doesn't regularly get more than one bid to the NCAA Tournament. Although that blurs the definition between a low- and mid-major conference (the MAC and the SWAC, for example, aren't in the same class), it does mean the MVC should be put on another level.
Littlepage was quick to point out that the term "mid-major" doesn't come up in the conversations during selection weekend in March. Still, the label sticks.
The MVC put three teams in the Dance last season -- Southern Illinois (a second-round appearance), Northern Iowa and Creighton. The Panthers were the biggest surprise, getting in despite being tied for third with Creighton (11-7 in the league) and losing in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.
The numbers don't lie. The Valley sent two teams to the NCAA Tournament in each of the previous five seasons before last year and three in 1999. The Valley also sent two a year from 1994-96, meaning in 10 of the last 12 seasons, this has been a multi-bid conference.
More evidence in favor of the Valley: getting its tournament title game on national television on CBS this March as a standalone (not spilt) national telecast.
"I would like to think that we're inching toward (getting rid of the label)," Northern Iowa coach Greg McDermott said. "If we were a fluke conference, then we would just get two bids and then maybe not again. But we're not doing that. We're also not getting embarrassed. None of our teams are. We're winning."
There are plenty of other definitions of mid-major, like how many top-100 players go to your league, regular-season national television exposure and whether or not head coaches in the conference would stay if offered a job in one of the higher-profile conferences. For the record, there were no head coach changes in the MVC this offseason (although we're not sure how many were offered or even pursued gigs).
The debate will rage on, but the Valley is starting to make a strong case to elevate itself.
-- Andy Katz
Jeff Shelman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune (www.startribune.com) is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.