|Chicago State and UTPA don't have the luxury of an AQ bid to the NCAA Tournament. (greatwestconference.org)|
While keeping up with which teams get automatic admission to the NCAA Tournament by winning their conference tournaments, you may have noticed the qualifier "No automatic bid" next to the Great West. Although there is more parity in college basketball than in college football, with most non-power conferences being allowed at least one representative in the field of 68, not every league is allowed to send its tournament champion into the big dance without proving itself elsewhere.
Unlike the Ohio Valley (established in 1948) and even the relatively young Conference USA, which has existed since 1995, the Great West has not been around long enough to be granted an auto-bid. Due to the three NCAA standards a conference must meet to put a tournament champion directly into the NCAA Tournament, the earliest the Great West, as currently comprised, could be eligible to receive an automatic bid is 2020.
"As currently comprised" is the catch there. The system in place was described by Kyle Whelliston at ESPN when the Great West was planting its seeds in 2008:
"NCAA men's basketball rules require conferences to pass a three-step eligibility check for auto-bid qualification: at least seven fully fledged Div. I members, seven that have been Div. I for at least eight years (known as "core members"), and six core members who have been league mates for five years."The current five full members — Chicago State, Houston Baptist, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Texas Pan-American and Utah Valley — are the most the Great West has had since coming into existence. But the goal of obtaining an auto-bid by 2020 is a pipe dream. Houston Baptist will join the Southland Conference this summer and CSU, UTPA and UVU will be in the WAC before next season begins, effectively widdling the Great West's basketball programs down to two.
NJIT and UTPA are one and two, respectively, in the rankings going into the conference tournament with the Highlanders getting a first-round bye and facing the winner of Houston Baptist-UVU in the second round. Fittingly, NJIT and UTPA stand the best chance at making the field of 68, although it is unlikely either will since neither have especially strong records. The Highlanders are 16-12 overall (6-2 in conference) and the Broncos hold a 16-15 record (5-3 in conference).
The Great West will not be represented in the NCAA Tournament by an automatic qualifier — or any team — this season and will probably not break in for years, as the conference's weakness forces its members to play up against opponents from bigger conferences with better recruiting and thus higher skilled players. The Great West tourney champion does receive immediate admission into the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, a third- or fourth-tier (depending on your perception of the College Basketball Invitational) option for teams in top conferences.
So the CIT it is and the Great West, on the precipice of being entirely deconstructed, will enjoy the the slightly dimmer limelight.