On most tournament pool brackets it will be indicated as "play-in winner," a stirring tribute to a successful season if ever there was one. Presenting once again the play-in game, which has become the NCAA's little joke on the smaller Div. I schools. This year was especially awkward, as Coppin State — the first 20-loss team ever to make the NCAA tourney — is scheduled to take on Mount St. Mary's for the right to make the 64-team field. The latter team is not amused.
Mount St. Marys and Coppin State were both informed early Sunday — 90 minutes before all the other teams — that they would be playing each other in the play-in game. That essentially spoiled the fun of the televised Selection Sunday announcement for both teams.
"I liked knowing [early] from a coaching standpoint," Mount St. Mary's coach Milan Brown said. "But as a fan, I didn't like it because we already knew when we walked in here who we were playing and where we were going. This part of March, just figuring out where you're going, that's so exciting for the kids and to have that taken away from them is a little bit of a downer."
Sophomore guard Jeremy Goode:
"I mean, we won our conference. I don't expect to have to win a game to get to a tournament that I feel we worked hard enough to get to."
He has a point. Either you're in the tournament or you aren't; creating two second-class citizen teams — the winner to be shoveled into the maw of a beast school like North Carolina anyway — doesn't seem right. Nor does awarding berths for conference tournament winners. Coppin State won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament by upsetting Morgan State (22-10), 62-60, after having been swept in the regular season. If the conferences want to generate revenue by having these tournaments, fine. But can't the NCAA ignore them, and award berths in the Big Dance to regular season winners?
No, you say. If the conference tournament didn't determine the true conference winners, no one would watch them. OK, I suppose. But you could still eliminate the play-in game. This year would have been an easy decision: Take Mount St. Mary's to the field of 64, and leave the 20-loss team behind.