VCU's Briante Weber and Rob Brandenburg (AP)
One of the unpublicized ramifications of the Colonial Athletic Association's new TV contract with the NBC Sports Group became clear on Thursday.
The league will no longer participate in BracketBusters.
Since ESPN no longer has the rights to televise CAA games, the network cannot include the league in BracketBusters. The conference was aware of this drawback when it signed a deal with NBC Sports Group that begins next season.
The CAA's lack of involvement in BracketBusters is a blow to an event that already often seems light on marquee matchups many years. ESPN has every right to give coveted late February inventory to its TV partners, yet the absence of CAA powers VCU, George Mason, Drexel and Old Dominion will reduce the appeal and name recognition of BracketBusters.
The only other marquee mid-major league fully committed to BracketBusters is the Missouri Valley Conference. Saint Mary's is among the WCC schools that regularly have participated, but fellow league powers Gonzaga and BYU have shied away from it because they don't want to be perceived as mid-major programs.
The impact for the CAA is the league's top teams will have to find other means to upgrade their non-conference schedules enough to contend for at-large NCAA tournament bids. That could mean anything from home-and-home series with other top mid-majors, more appearances in exempt tournaments or even two-for-one deals with power conference teams often reluctant to schedule a CAA school.
For as long as BracketBusters has existed, fans of mid-major teams have debated whether the boost from a win in the event outweighs the blow to a program's at-large hopes from a loss.
In 2011, VCU parlayed a BracketBusters win over Wichita State into one of the final NCAA tournament bids and went on to make the Final Four. Conversely, a highly touted Saint Mary's team lost to Utah State that same year and had to settle for an NIT bid.
The CAA now becomes a test case for both arguments. The challenge the league now faces is to continue to be a threat for two or three NCAA tournament bids without the exposure and schedule-boosting opportunities BracketBusters provides.
Note: Part of the above post was altered to reflect that the CAA was aware it would not be part of BracketBusters when it entered an agreement with the NBC Sports Group
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