Given the University of Richmond’s most recent NCAA tournament experience, continuation of the field of 68 may seem satisfactory to the Spiders’ longtime coach.
Not so. Chris Mooney wants more teams in an expanded bracket. Sports at many levels have expanded playoffs fields. The NCAA in men’s hoops should follow suit, Mooney submits.
“That’s what is going on in sports,” he said Wednesday night following UR’s 73-63 win over George Washington. “With the addition of all the teams (to a 360-member Division I), with how every other NCAA tournament has expanded …
“I don’t see why we wouldn’t. I don’t see the drawback.”
An NCAA committee designed to assess Division I sports on Tuesday released recommendations that could lead to several changes. The most notable was potential expansion of the NCAA tournament to at least 90, a figure that would represent about 25% of Division I teams. That would fall in line with the percentages of postseason qualifiers in other NCAA sports.
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Mooney said he finds this development, “a positive step in the right direction,” though he didn’t sound optimistic expansion is imminent.
Mooney, who’s in his 18th season at UR, directed the Spiders to the 2022 A-10 tournament championship and the automatic NCAA bid that accompanies the title. Richmond then upset Big Ten champion Iowa in the NCAA tournament, the program’s most impactful victory in a decade.
The win put the Spiders in a special, celebrated category: among those teams that reached the NCAAs and advanced. Getting into position to make that national mark should be more within reach for a program such as Richmond, Mooney believes.
“We’ve been on the bubble I’d say maybe eight times coming down the stretch,” said Mooney, whose Spiders made the NCAAs in 2010 and 2011 prior to last season. “I can remember in 2010, because (analysts) talk about it so much, it was like, ‘Well, how long can Richmond rely on its win over Purdue?’”
UR defeated Purdue, which was ranked No. 8, during late November in the Chicago Invitational Challenge. The analysts’ suggestion was that Richmond hadn’t won any subsequent games of that magnitude. This bugged Mooney.
“We can only play Purdue once,” Mooney said. His position: It’s not as if the Spiders face a steady diet of ranked opponents in nonconference play because that’s not the way scheduling operates, and A-10 competition in most seasons can drive a team’s national standing only so much.
Mooney advocates greater scheduling equity that would open the gate for teams such as Richmond to play more Power Five opposition, and even have some of those games at the Robins Center.
“If we never get the chance to play (Power Five members) at home – never, never – well then how are we supposed to make the case for us?” said Mooney.
Those who push for continuation of the current NCAA tournament model like its exclusivity and the way it fits into an established time period. They view March Madness as an exciting annual entertainment event and are unconcerned by the access component for Division I teams.
Mooney, like all coaches, is quite concerned with the access component. Qualifying for the NCAA tournament is how teams on Richmond’s level largely are judged, and coaches and their assistants keep their jobs, or earn more prestigious ones.
The quality of teams below the Power Five level is underrated, Mooney suggested. He said he was often congratulated by other coaches for the Spiders’ NCAA tournament victory over Iowa.
“And my point was, yes, and Dayton would have beaten Iowa, and VCU could have beaten Iowa, and Davidson could have beaten Iowa,” Mooney said of other A-10 members (UR and Davidson were the only league teams that qualified for the NCAA tournament).
“The parity that exists is not represented with the imbalance in bids to the leagues.”