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Tuesday, March 17, 2009 | Here’s a nice problem to have that suddenly confronts San Diego State basketball:
Two post-season teams and only one home floor available to play games.
When San Diego State’s men’s team was omitted from the NCAA tournament bracket announced Sunday, the Aztecs not only settled for a bid to the NIT tournament, they garnered a No. 1 seed.
That means SDSU is entitled to as many as three home games. The first one is Tuesday at Cox Arena when SDSU (23-9), the Mountain West Conference tournament runner-up, faces Weber State (21-9), the Big Sky Conference regular-season champion.
But where a possible second-round NIT game is played is up in the air because the NCAA will be setting up for the women’s sub-regional at Cox Arena Saturday and Monday that includes San Diego State.
On Saturday, 10th-seeded SDSU, the MWC regular-season co-champion and MWC tournament runner-up, plays at 5 p.m. against 7th-seeded DePaul, the fourth-place team in in the 16-school Big East Conference.
Saturday’s nightcap matches No. 2 seed Stanford and No. 15 seed UC Santa Barbara.
“This is a celebratory week for San Diego State basketball,” Aztecs women’s coach Beth Burns said. “I’m sure we’ll have the NIT banners up for Tuesday’s game and then it’s NCAA central.”
SDSU is already exploring options such as the Sports Arena or the University of San Diego’s Jenny Craig Pavilion of where to play the men’s second-round game if the Aztecs beat Weber State.
Although it’s an inconvenience for SDSU men’s coach Steve Fisher and his players, Burns says it’s not the problem it might be at other campuses across the country.
“I probably shouldn’t say this, but that’s why people like me, because I say things,” Burns said. “But I said to my staff today that on a lot of campuses across the country there would have been coaches of a men’s staff hoping a certain women’s program didn’t get a bid.
“But I’ll guarantee you Steve Fisher said we’ll play on the moon if it helps the women, and he would be getting out of his space helmet to go play that game. Steve supports us and we love Steve. We’ll be supporting them Tuesday and then hoping they get all the way to New York (for the NIT final four).”
Fisher and his players, of course, would prefer to be traveling to some NCAA location for a first-round game Thursday or Friday.
Judging by SDSU’s No. 1 seed in its NIT quadrant, the Aztecs were one of the last teams left out of the NCAA’s 64-team mix (not counting tonight’s play-in game).
Something doesn’t add up on our college campuses of higher learning when it comes to football and men’s basketball.
On the one hand, the NCAA, the body that governs college athletics, for three decades-plus has gradually leveled the playing field with scholarship limitations in football and basketball.
In football, for example, no longer can Alabama and Bear Bryant dominate by awarding dozens upon dozens of scholarships just to keep a talented kid from the South from playing for Auburn or another Southeastern Conference rival.
In basketball, scholarship limitations have narrowed the gap on the court between the so-called power conferences — Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big East, SEC, Big 12 and Pac-10 — and the mid-majors.
Just look at the Top 25 rankings. There are five teams from the mid-majors ranked among the Top 25 poll by ESPN/USA Today. That’s 20 percent.
But the guys on the NCAA basketball tournament filling the 64-team bracket (not counting a play-in game today for the 64th spot) have shifted things into reverse.
Of the 34 available at-large berths, 30 went to schools from the six power conferences and just four from the rest of college basketball — otherwise known as mid-majors (or smaller). Only four, or 13 percent, of the mid-major conferences gained at-large berths.
There were seven teams each from the 16-school Big East, 12-school Atlantic Coast and 11-school Big Ten. The Big 12 landed six of its 12 and the Pac-10 placed six of 10.
In other words, teams from the bottom half of the ACC, Big Ten and the Pac-10 were rewarded.
What is this, the National Hockey League?
And the next team down in power conference standings — such as eighth-place Penn State in the Big Ten — thinks it was as slighted as much or more than a MWC such as San Diego State, which advanced to the MWC tournament final, or New Mexico, which shared an MWC regular-season tri-championship with NCAA tournament participants Utah and Brigham Young.
As Fisher said, that’s “why you have to seal the deal,” referring to claiming the NCAA automatic bid by winning the conference tournament title.
But at least SDSU has a nice kind of problem for a change. It wasn’t that long ago, before Cox Arena, SDSU didn’t have any post-season teams or a legitimate arena.
Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org‘s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions and an occasional writer for Chargers.com. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send a letter to the editor.