Will Tom Izzo and others ruin this tournament?

Will Tom Izzo and others ruin this tournament?

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Izzo Wants NCAA to Look Into Eliminating Automatic Bids for Mid-Major Programs

You know, I started this week saying it’ll be nothing but positivity. Then I heard coaches and conference commissioners from major conferences and teams starting to push back on small to mid-level schools getting automatic bids into the best tournament ever created. I have to ask, will Tom Izzo and others ruin this tournament?

Full disclosure, I always felt Izzo was a bit of a crybaby. He seems to think his team should get all the calls. Ok ok, that’s probably true for most coaches. But that disappointed, smug look on his face when something goes against him gets me riled up. And now he is attacking the system, the best post-season system mind you, because those pesky little schools are starting to hang with the big boys more and more.

Small and Mid-Major Success

Before I go off the rails, let’s look at the success small and mid-major teams have enjoyed over the years.

Recent examples of Mid-Major success in the NCAA Tournament:
*2018 Loyola-Chicago: The Ramblers, an 11-seed, captured hearts with their exciting run to the Final Four.
*2023 Saint Peter’s: This small New Jersey school became the darling of the tournament, reaching the Sweet Sixteen as a 15-seed.

No. 16 seeds defeating No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament is rare, but also incredibly exciting. It’s a story of just two upsets, both monumental in their own right.

2018: The first time lightning struck was in 2018. The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) Retrievers, a school with a total enrollment of around 14,000 students, shocked the college basketball world by defeating the overall No. 1 seed Virginia Cavaliers by a score of 74-54. This victory remains the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history.
2023: Just five years later, history repeated itself. The Fairleigh Dickinson Knights, another underdog school, took down the No. 1 seed Purdue Boilermakers 63-58. This win became the second instance of a No. 16 seed defeating a No. 1 seed.

Here are the No. 15 seeds who defeated a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament since 1997

  • 1997: Coppin State defeated South Carolina
  • 2001: Hampton defeated Iowa State
  • 2012: Norfolk State defeated Missouri
  • 2012: Lehigh defeated Duke
  • 2013: Florida Gulf Coast defeated Georgetown
  • 2016: Middle Tennessee State defeated Michigan State
  • 2021: Oral Roberts defeated Ohio State (OT)
  • 2022: St. Peter’s defeated Kentucky
  • 2023: Princeton defeated Arizona

Let’s look at the No. 14 seeds who defeated a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament since 2005

*2005 Bucknell defeated Kansas
*2006 Northwestern State defeated Iowa
*2010 Ohio defeated Georgetown
*2013 Harvard defeated New Mexico
*2014 Mercer defeated Duke
*2015 UAB defeated Iowa State
*2015 Georgia State defeated Baylor
*2016 Stephen F. Austin defeated West Virginia
*2021 Abilene Christian defeated Texas

Why so much steady success? Well, what Izzo probably already knows, these schools typically have an exceptional coaching staff and players hungry to prove themselves.

So what’s the big deal??

By the way, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has coached teams that have lost in the NCAA men’s tournament to Nevada, George Mason, and Middle Tennessee over the years.

End Auto Bids?

The coach, who commands a $6.2 million salary presumably predicated on the popularity of college basketball and, more broadly, its postseason—expressed support Wednesday for ending automatic access to the tournament for mid- and low-major conference champions.

Izzo told reporters ahead of the Spartans’ first-round game against Mississippi State Friday in Charlotte that automatic bids for mid- and low-major conference tournament champions have “got to be looked at seriously.”

“While everybody likes the upsets in the first round I’m not sure if that’s true as it goes on,” Izzo said, per ESPN’s David Hale.

What the hell is this dude talking about? Speak for yourself, coach. Unless your team is losing, I haven’t heard anyone ever say, “I hate upsets in the tournament.”

SEC also helping the movement

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey made similar statements recently that proved wildly unpopular. His case, for that particular argument, was that UCLA went from the First Four to the Final Four in 2021 and Syracuse’s run to the Round of 16 beginning with a play-in game in Dayton in 2018 showed the caliber of power-conference teams on the fringe of the NCAA tournament.

He complained that automatic bids keep some of these teams out. And that’s the key phrase, “keeps us out.” The NCAA loves money, and the folks with most of the money are starting to request changes to the tournament.

They already play their way in

The NCAA men’s tournament has a complex relationship with non-power conferences. Often, mid- and low-major teams are made to play in play-in games just to reach the main field. That’s after they played their way in via their conference tournament.

So “automatic bid” is a bit of a deceiving moniker. They certainly play their way in, rarely getting automatic bids from a small to mid-major team that didn’t win their conference championship (I can’t think of one). Smaller schools have repeatedly proven their worth as worthy competitors against their more moneyed counterparts when given the opportunity. This has gradually shaped the hyper-lucrative tournament of today.

Following football?

So, much like the new football format, where two conferences will basically have automatic bids but only for the majors, they’re headed toward boxing out the smaller schools and conferences. Yeah, the irony. The big schools don’t want automatic bids to the basketball tournament, but it’ll be fine for football because it’ll only include a handful of potential teams, all mega programs.

You know what? They’ll get what they want. The tournament will change. Heavyweight coaches and conferences almost always get what they want. The NCAA is in multiple lawsuits currently, and pissing off your monetary base will be bad for business.


So have fun with your brackets, consume a few pints, and root for the small schools. Soon enough, they’ll have no chance.








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