NEC Change?

Man that was ugly. Nice try FDU? Good effort? The Knights got smoked in Dayton, as the NEC failed to win the play-in game for the third time in four years (I’m half kidding here. The young Knights got a tough matchup against the badly under-seeded Eagles of FGCU). The only team to win in that stretch? Well we all know.

The NEC has missed some good opportunities to grab some extra cash as an FDU win in Dayton would have earned the league an extra NCAA win-share. Losing in this game also hurts because no team from the league actually makes it into the 64 team bracket.

It’s tough to gain publicity when your league is eliminated before the first tip-off at noon on the opening Thursday. This has now happened three times in the past four years (LIU in 2013 and Mount St. Mary’s in 2014 each lost too).

The league hasn’t gotten a team off the 16 line since the 2011 tournament when LIU was a 15 seed and lost to North Carolina. Tough to make a name when you are playing number one seed’s. 16 seeds are 0-120 all time.

The biggest issue in my opinion — and one that haunts many low major leagues — the league has not sent it’s best team to the tournament in quite some time. No number one seed has won the NEC tournament since 2012 when LIU beat RMU in the NEC title game, and wouldn’t you know, they stayed off the 16 line, earning the aforementioned 15 seed. Seriously folks, that’s now four years in which the one seed failed to reach the NCAA tournament (RMU, RMU, St. Francis Brooklyn, and Wagner).

This isn’t to say the NEC has sent bottom dwellers. In those four years, LIU was very good, winning their third straight title, MSM had a team of seniors that could ball, RMU had a great trio with Marcquise Reed, Lucky Jones, and Rodney Pryor, and this FDU team was deep, talented, and had the league’s best offense.

But none represented the league’s best chance to win games.

Example: The 2013 RMU team would have been a 14 seed, maybe even 13. They had a roster that had seniors, size, tons of depth, great shooting… everything needed to pull an upset in the NCAA tournament. The same can be said for last year’s regular season champ, St. Francis Brooklyn. The Terriers certainly would have avoided the trip to Dayton and been a tough out for any big boy looking for a walk in the park round one.

Now before I go any longer, it needs to be said… I do not want to eliminate the auto bid going to the conference tournament champ. It’s too much fun, too much exposure, too much awesomeness. That week, the week we just had a few days ago, is what makes March great. Anyone that has been to a low-major title game with a bid on the line knows that there is NOTHING like it in sports. However, I would love to see the NEC — and other one bid leagues — make the regular season more meaningful, and give their best team a better shot.

The NEC does a decent job compared to some conferences. They at least award home court to their champ, and re-seed. So how can they take it a step further? I believe the league should award the regular season champ a spot directly in the NEC title game, on their home court. On top of that, only five teams make the NEC tournament.

Five at two, four at three. The winner of that mini bracket plays the number one seed in the title game.

The league still gets their “15 minutes of fame” on ESPN2 where two good teams duke it out for a spot in the tournament. This format would make the regular season a whole hell of a lot more meaningful. Only the top half of the league would have a chance for the bid, and the league winner would have -statistically speaking– the best shot at winning the bid.

Now I get there are some things that would need to be worked out, like tie breakers for the final spot, the top spot, and any TV contracts that might be in writing for semifinal games, but those can be worked around. Head-to-head, win percentage against the top three teams, etc could be used.

I have no idea if there are rules that stipulate a team must play more than one conference tournament game, a limit on teams that make the tournament, etc but I do know something should be done. Small, one bid leagues should do more to send their best teams, without taking away the madness of a winner take all title game.

–Lee Kunkel

Header p/c John Minchillo/AP Photo


One Comment

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  1. Great insight there Lee. I would love to see this implemented. Not only does it make every single regular season game more meaningful, but it adds some drama to the picture. However the one downfall to this as it is for most things would be money. Money talks and schools athletic departments are not going to want to give up possibly two home games. Not that schools like RMU make a ton of money like larger universities at home games, but it is definitely something to consider. I am with you though in I would love to see this change. One love.


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