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MEN'S BASKETBALL: RPI topic of discussion at Big Sky spring meetings

Doug Fullerton

The Wildcats earned the Big Sky Conference’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament with the win, but went to the Big Dance with a No. 16 seed. A No. 16 seed has never won a first-round NCAA game, making Weber’s first-round result predictable. No. 1 seed Arizona downed Weber 68-59, an outcome, however, that was closer than the usual meeting between a No. 1 seed and No. 16 seed.

Weber, however, was a No. 16 seed mainly due to the Big Sky Conference’s low Ratings Percentage Index — one of the major tools used by the NCAA Selection Committee in determining the 68-team tournament.

In recent seasons, the Big Sky’s RPI has been lower than what the league wants or expects. At the end of the 2013-14 men’s basketball season, the Big Sky RPI was at No. 26 among 33 Division I conferences.

The Big Sky Conference is holding its spring meetings at UND this week, and the men’s basketball RPI was one topic of discussion for league commissioner Doug Fullerton and the 12 athletic directors attending the three-day session.

No official action regarding the RPI was taken but the commissioner did outline ways for athletic directors and league coaches to help improve it.

The big key to improving RPI, said Fullerton, is different scheduling.

“Scheduling is the key,” said Fullerton.

He said there are three areas where different scheduling could help improve the Big Sky’s RPI.

  • Big Sky teams, he said, should try to schedule more pre-conference Division I home games. Once Big Sky play begins, a team’s RPI usually isn’t strengthened.
  • “Money” or guarantee games against teams from power conferences could be scaled back. “It’s about money and I understand that,” said Fullerton, adding some league teams are guaranteed as much as $100,000 for a game. “And I understand athletic directors can’t give up those games 100 percent. But I think we can be more selective on how we schedule those games.”
  • A partnership with other like conferences for pre-league games could also benefit the Big Sky’s RPI. For instance, pre-league games pairing the top teams from the Big Sky and the Western Athletic Conference or other like conferences could generate RPI-enhancing wins. Also, teams that are rebuilding in both leagues could play each other, placing teams on a level playing surface.

A higher RPI for a Big Sky team entering the NCAA Tournament enhances that team’s chance for a first-round win.

“And that creates money and it’s positive for recruiting,” said Fullerton. “It builds on itself.”

The Big Sky, said Fullerton, “has a tradition of being pretty competitive but lately it hasn’t been because we’re ending up with a No. 15 or No. 16 seed. If you can get a 13 seed, you can be competitive. You have a chance.”

Viva Las Vegas?

Another basketball issue also was discussed Tuesday at the league’s spring meetings. There is a push from some athletic directors to centralize both the men’s and women’s basketball tournament instead of holding the event at the site of the regular-season champion.

There is a push to hold the tournaments in Las Vegas, making for easier travel plans for team fans.

No official action was taken on that suggestion. Big Sky presidents may address that possibility today.

Fullerton said league coaches “are very interested” in a centralized tournament format, one that likely would include every Big Sky team. “The tournament format is not high on my agenda,” added the commissioner. “But I’m certainly willing to listen to them.”

The Big Sky also launched its inaugural Student-Athlete Health and Wellness Symposium on the UND campus. The symposium features sessions on an athlete’s mental well-being, drug and alcohol abuse, concussions and mindfulness.

The Big Sky meetings and symposium sessions wrap up today.

Wayne Nelson
Nelson is the sports editor of the Herald
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