Sure, in basketball, it's more semantics that economics, because in the end, it doesn't matter to teams like Butler, Creighton or Wichita State if they're in a conference labeled a "mid-major." So it doesn't REALLY matter if the national media still wants to refer to the Mountain West as a "mid-major" conference. Those who know the game know better. There's nothing "mid" about Mountain West hoops.
Just for the sake of argument, wouldn't it be nice to know what constitutes a "power" conference in college basketball, and how that designation is earned? I mean, the MW put half of its conference teams in the NCAA tournament a year ago, and could do even better this season. Two years after the "once in a lifetime" season of Jimmer and Kwahi, and one year after having a conference RPI that was better than the ACC, the Mountain West is back again, and possibly better than ever. Three teams are nationally ranked, two more are inside the Top 40 of the RPI, and another, Boise State, which was projected in the lower half of the conference, has already gone on the road and knocked off 11th-ranked Creighton 83-70. It's the Blue Jays only loss of the season so far.
From top to bottom, could the MW be the best it's ever been?
Right now, the MW is the No. 5 rated conference in terms of RPI, ahead of two "power" conferences in the Big 12 AND the SEC. This isn't the first time the MW has been ranked among the top five, either. It concluded both the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons as the fifth-ranked RPI conference. So, the MW is ranked among the top five leagues for the third straight year and yet still "some" pundits continue to dwell on the "mid-major" label.
Through the end of November, the MW had the nation's best collective winning percentage, and in addition to New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV being nationally ranked, Wyoming, Boise State and Colorado State all had received votes. All nine teams in the conference had a winning record.
What about all this says "mid-major?"
It was a power conference atmosphere in Boulder last week when Colorado State visited Colorado and the two played before the biggest crowd to ever watch a game at CU. The Buffaloes held off a spirited second-half charge by the Rams to win at home, just days after Wyoming had whipped the defending Pac-12 tournament champion Buffs in Laramie. Meanwhile, the Rams had already traveled to Washington and pasted the Huskies. These games illustrated the small difference between the best of the "power conference" Pac-12 and a couple of teams that finished in the middle of the Mountain West last season. (As for the top of the MW, San Diego State has already beaten UCLA, and New Mexico has whipped USC, just for good measure...)
So we ask again, what makes a college basketball league a "power conference" and what makes it a mid-major? Is it just the random opinions of the biased media? Do facts and results have anything to do with it? Do these labels even matter?
No...and yes. They matter only come tournament selection time. They matter if the NCAA selection committee can't look past conference affiliation when awarding bids to deserving teams outside of the "power" conferences. This HAS happened in the recent past. There were some in the media advocating for five MW teams to get NCAA bids a year ago. "Only" four did, which tied a conference record for the second time in three years. You could have made a strong case for more.
That record could be short-lived. Along with New Mexico, Wyoming has started the season 10-0 and the Cowboys appear ready to join the upper echelon. There really is no reason why the veteran group from Colorado State doesn't earn a repeat trip...and the threesome of the Lobos, Aztecs and Rebels appear to be locks. So if five out of the nine MW teams get to go dancing this coming March, I say we get some sort of official proclamation from the state governors that puts an official end to this "mid-major" nonsense, once and for all.
Or we could just enjoy the postseason and remember then that labels don't matter. Much.