WELL, THE BIG crap shoot is finished, and the Western Athletic Conference got its way. Now what?
The NCAA invited a record four WAC teams to its tournament on Sunday, which means everybody will have to drop the persecution complex.No more whining about lack of respect for the league, no more complaining about being ignored by the snobs from the NCAA, yadda, yadda, yadda.
The league got its wish. Four of them, actually. Utah, Texas Christian, New Mexico and Nevada-Las Vegas have been invited to the NCAA tournament. That's four of the league's 16 teams. Twenty-five percent of the league is going to the NCAAs.
For the record, the WAC has never sneaked more than three teams into the tournament, and in some years the league got only two berths.
But not this time. Not only did the WAC get four invitations, but they came with high seeds, as well - Utah No. 3 in the West, New Mexico No. 4 in the South, TCU No. 5 in the Midwest.
(UNLV is seeded 12th and lucky to have it, having stumbled into a berth by winning the league tournament on its home court after sleep-walking through the regular season. So if the Rebels have complaints, we don't want to hear about it.)
The NCAA had its excuses this time, if it wanted them. Utah and TCU made early exits from the conference tournament - Utah lost its first game of the tournament to mediocre UNLV (see above), and TCU lost to New Mexico in the semifinals, and New Mexico lost in the finals to UNLV.
The NCAA has punished the WAC for similar offenses (can you say N-I-T?). But despite the string of upsets last week, the NCAA still delivered four invitations. The season-long consistency of Utah, TCU and New Mexico was rewarded this time.
Utah, the league's best team this season, was accommodated like one of the blue bloods. The Utes were given a berth in a sub-regional close to home, just up the highway in Boise. No lengthy travel day and, more importantly, no Kentucky in the draw, either.
So no one can say this time that the league was overlooked or slighted. The WAC has the chance it hoped for. Apparently, a few WAC games do reach TV sets in the East, after all. Somehow, the NCAA selection committee members got the word.
The question is, what will the WAC do with their berths this time? Remember what they say about being careful what you wish for?
Now seems like as good a time as any for the WAC to put up or shut up. Let's face it, the league hasn't done much to earn respect. In its 35 years of existence, the WAC has a record of 48-68 in the tournament.
Only one WAC team even has a winning record in NCAA play. Utah is 16-13. Most of the WAC teams aren't even close. BYU 8-17. Colorado State 3-3. Hawaii 0-1. New Mexico 4-9. San Diego State 0-1. Texas-El Paso 5-10. Tulsa 1-1. Wyoming 4-6.
When it comes to making an argument for respect from the NCAA selection committee, the WAC really hasn't had much of an argument. Mostly WAC teams have served as first-round warm-up acts. Only a few WAC teams have made it as far as the Sweet 16 - BYU and Utah in 1981, Wyoming in '87, UTEP in '92 and Utah in '91, '96 and '97. That isn't saying much for more than three decades of trying.
Of the 20 NCAA berths, the WAC has won in the '90s, nine of them ended in the first round and seven of them in the second round.
But all that seemed to be forgotten, or at least forgiven on Sunday. The WAC took four of the 64 berths the NCAA delivered.
That's the way it was all year long. The WAC arrive. Three WAC teams ranked in the Top 20 throughout the regular season, and even when those teams lost a game or two they didn't bottom out of the rankings as they might have in the past, but slipped only a notch or two.
Not only did the WAC land four teams in the NCAA tournament on Sunday, but four more WAC teams were snagged by the NIT, putting exactly half of the league's teams into post-season play.
So pass the word: The WAC is in.