Colonial Athletic Association commissioner Thomas Yeager sent two of his teams into BracketBuster weekend needing wins to bolster their hopes of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Instead Old Dominion fell at Northern Iowa and William & Mary crumbled at Iona, likely ending the CAA's chances of putting more than one team in the field of 65 this March.
"BracketBusters has been very good to us as a league most years, but unfortunately this year wasn't one of them," Yeager said by phone on Monday afternoon. "But I think the format is fine. It's delivered what it's supposed to do for us a couple times. If you're successful, it can help you quite a bit."
If the purpose of the Bracket Buster event is to help more mid-major teams play their way into the NCAA tournament, then there's no denying that this year's event was a colossal failure. In addition to Old Dominion and William & Mary, Siena's at large hopes vanished after a blowout loss at Butler and Wichita State's did so as well after falling at Utah State.
Although Yeager points to George Mason's win over Wichita State in 2006 that helped the Patriots make the tournament and Drexel's win at Creighton in 2007 that got the Dragons back in the discussion, those are exceptions rather than the norm. A mid-major who wins a BracketBuster game typically gets rewarded with a small credibility boost, whereas its opponent often falls out of the at-large discussion altogether as a result of a loss to a fellow mid-major.
The solution to this, of course, would be to pit mid-majors against big-name opponents in the BracketBuster event, except few if any teams from the power six conferences would have anything to gain by such a format. Heck, even teams like Gonzaga, Xavier, Memphis and BYU have avoided BracketBusters because they don't want to be perceived as mid-majors and they believe the risk of losing to a team from the CAA or the Missouri Valley Conference is greater than the reward of beating one.
Yeager's argument is that the exposure, revenue and potential resume boost of a BracketBuster game for teams in his league is better than the alternative of nothing at all. Power-six conference teams rarely agree to schedule the better teams from the CAA, so they'll accept chances for resume-building victories however they can get them, even if it's against another mid-major.
"If we all had enough high-profile opponents on our schedule, then you could say we don't need another game, but the truth of the matter is we all do," Yeager said. "For the most part, Bracketbuster has given teams one more shot at a Top 50 opponent. You've got to play and you've got to hope you have a chance to establish some credibility in the committee's eyes."
The CAA's credibility unfortunately took a hit this year after the conference went 3-9 in BracketBuster games including losses by each of the top four teams.
Still, Yeager hasn't given up hope of the CAA eking out an at-large bid, with Old Dominion (21-8, 13-3) ranked 41st in the RPI and William & Mary (18-8, 11-5) boasting non-conference wins over Maryland, Richmond and Wake Forest.
"They still have RPIs in the 40s which puts them in the middle of the discussion and they still have two more conference games and the conference tournament to establish themselves," Yeager said. "Both of them have impressive non-conference wins, so we hope we make it really difficult on the committee because they're pretty good teams."