Bellarmine wins conference title, denied tournament bid by NCAA rule

Bellarmine men's basketball did the one thing that's generally guaranteed to secure an NCAA tournament bid on Tuesday.

Except in Bellarmine's case, it didn't.

The Knights defeated Jacksonville, 77-72 in the Atlantic Sun conference tournament final, a victory that usually comes with the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. But thanks to an NCAA rule, Jacksonville State instead will earn the ASUN bid.

Bellarmine, a Catholic school in Louisville, is new to Division I, having been promoted from Division II in 2020, when it joined the Atlantic Sun. The NCAA doesn't allow teams to play in postseason tournaments until their fifth season at the D-I level.

Why Bellarmine won't go dancing

Why? Here's the NCAA's reasoning per CBS' Matt Norlander, who shared a 2011 statement from the NCAA in 2020.

"The resulting structure will ensure that reclassifying members are committed to the D-I philosophy and operating principles," the NCAA statement reads. "In addition, this legislation will increase the likelihood that such institutions will operate successful, competitive programs at the D-I level."

Based on the results of their second season, the Knights are quite clearly operating a successful, competitive program at the D-I level. Their tournament win wasn't a fluke. They earned a No. 2 seed in the tournament thanks to an 11-5 conference record alongside their overall 20-13 tally.

Bellarmine guard CJ Fleming hugs his fiancee, Lexy Hoffman, after Bellarmine's 77-72 victory over Jacksonville in an NCAA college basketball game for the championship in the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament Louisville, Ky., Tuesday, March 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
Despite the NCAA snub, Bellarmine's ASUN championship was cause for celebration.(AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

But there's nothing they can do about it. Regular-season champion Jacksonville State will instead go dancing despite not advancing to the tournament final. It lost to Jacksonville in the semifinal round.

There are arguments to be had around whether conferences should award their bids to champions of a months-long regular-season slate or a team that strings a few wins together over the course of a week. But this is not the place for those arguments. The Knights played by the rules applied to almost everyone else and won. Except another rule that applies to only a handful of teams means that this group of players won't play in the NCAA tournament — or in the NIT — despite earning their way in by any reasonable measure.

Bellarmine has questions.

And it wants answers.

As does the ASUN.