Conference USA is certainly not the biggest league in college sports. However, it is proving to be very forward thinking. A new change to how the men’s basketball league schedules could become a model for other conferences.
Since the departure of schools like Houston and Memphis, and going back a little farther, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Marquette, C-USA has turned into a one-bid league. The last time multiple Conference USA schools made it to the NCAA Tournament was 2012. Considering the value of tournament revenue, that is an issue.
Rather than sitting back and hoping for something to change organically, the conference is considering a big change to how it schedules. The news comes out of the league’s spring meetings this week.
The proposal would essentially pit teams into pods after a 13-game round robin to start the league schedule. The 14 teams would all play one another once, as well as an additional game against a main rival or travel partner.
After that, the top five teams would be placed into a group, where the remaining games for those teams would all be within that group. The same would go for the teams ranked sixth through 10th, and 11th through 14th.
Marshall head coach Danny D’Antoni excited revealed the Conference USA plan to columnist Chuck Landon of The Herald-Dispatch:
“You fall into a pod. Then what happens is if you’re in the top five, your RPI is not going to be lowered by playing somebody at No. 230 and a chance of getting beaten – especially at their place. You eliminate that. And, again, you have a chance at playing schools with higher RPIs.”
That is a very progressive move.
“It’s a definitive move,” said D’Antoni. “It creates a lot more excitement because the games you have at home are against top teams.”
The teams down the rankings may not love losing out on the chance to climb up and earn a better seed for the conference tournament. However, if this has the intended result—higher seeded NCAA Tournament teams and potential more than one bid—the schools down the standings will feel the monetary benefits as well.
RPI and strength of schedule aren’t perfect measures, but they are still very important when it comes to bracket seeding. Add in more marquee games between good mid-majors, and this is an extremely shrewd move that it sounds like the Conference USA is close to making a reality.