ALLEGANY – Mark Schmidt was waiting for the announcement on television like everyone else Sunday evening when his phone alerted him to a text message from his agent. Not only had the NCAA Tournament brackets been leaked, but St. Bonaventure was snubbed.
He pulled university President Sister Margaret Carney aside to tell her the news without mentioning anything to his players. Word travels fast given the tentacles of social media. Sure enough, within minutes, his players began receiving similar messages from people paying attention on the outside.
Schmidt was furious, as you can imagine, after the teams were officially announced and his worst fears were confirmed. The Bonnies were the first team in history to share a conference title and be ranked in the top 30 of the Ratings Percentage Index and not receive an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s shocking,” Schmidt said. “I feel really bad for our players who had a tremendous year. As I told them, the one thing no one can take away is what we did this year. … We had a special year. Not getting into the tournament is not going to take that stuff away.”
And then there was the leak.
It was as if someone stuck a knife in his back when he realized his team wasn’t getting an invitation, then twisted it by letting everyone know prematurely Bona had been left off the dance list. Their private watch party fell silent. A few players walked out of the room in disgust and disbelief.
“It was really disappointing,” Schmidt said. “How could it get out of that room? To me, it was very unprofessional. You trust those people in that room to keep it between them. There will be some type of investigation, I would assume, into how it got out of that room. I would assume that it’s the first time it happened.”
“It was surprising and very regrettable,” said Joe Castiglione, chairman of the NCAA selection committee. “I can tell you the NCAA goes to great lengths to make sure the field isn’t revealed prematurely. … We’re still looking into the matter. We take it seriously and hope to zero in on how it occurred.”
St. Bonaventure did almost everything it could and far more than anyone expected this season.
The Bonnies had a 22-8 record overall and were 14-4 in the conference. It was the first time since 1976-77 that they won 20 games during the regular season. It was the most conference wins in school history.
And they won the conference championship for the first time since joining the A-10 in 1979. They had a hiccup against La Salle, but so did Dayton. They suffered an early knockout from the conference tournament, certainly, but it wasn’t as if they were blown out of the Barclays Center. They lost in overtime.
“We shocked a lot of people and turned a lot of heads,” guard Marcus Posley said. “I’m grateful to be part of this group of guys and this university. To be a part of history and what we accomplished this year is really cool but, yeah, it’s disappointing.”
Bona twice beat A-10 tourney champion Saint Joseph’s, once on the road and again at a neutral site in Rochester. To me, how they played all season in a rugged league like the Atlantic 10 means more than what happens in the conference tourney.
Apparently, the NCAA disagreed.
St. Bonaventure was awarded a top seed in the National Invitation Tournament and will host Wagner on Wednesday.
Schmidt and his players said all the right things out of respect for the NIT, but they were livid.
Castiglione pointed to Bonaventure’s weak non-conference schedule. Bona did not have a victory over Top 80 non-conference teams and had five losses to teams that also failed to earn an NCAA bid.
“They were being compared to teams like Syracuse and VCU,” Castiglione said. “They had losses to each of those teams. You could say it hurt their chances.”
I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but the bracket getting leaked makes you wonder whether there was something sinister happening. For years, I’ve thought that the NCAA was a money-grubbing political machine and one of the most hypocritical organizations in sports.
Bona has the third-smallest program in Division I hoops, too, and the smallest endowment among Atlantic 10 schools. In other words, it’s not a popular school that generates big revenue. The Bonnies have an energetic fan base, but it’s smaller than most schools with Division I programs.
St. Bonaventure has great tradition, but it should never be confused with the rich and famous of college basketball.
“It makes you question,” Schmidt said. “Is it branding? Is it a money thing, you know, big schools, power conferences? You look at some of the schools that get in with higher RPIs. There was one school (Syracuse) that lost five out of six games. Everything you hear, it went against what you thought was important.”
The easiest way to explain the Bonnies getting left off the dance card was their loss to sixth-seeded Davidson in the A-10 tourney quarterfinals.
The prevailing opinion going into the game was that they would have locked up an invitation if they stacked the semifinals atop a share of the conference title.
St. Bonaventure shared the conference title with Dayton and Virginia Commonwealth. Dayton lost in the semifinals and earned a seventh seed. VCU won its semifinal game and earned a 10th seed. Schmidt was convinced his team would have been ignored even if it won Friday and lost to VCU.
“Where were we going to end up?” Schmidt said. “According to the logic, we wouldn’t have gotten in. That game didn’t matter. It’s baffling to me. I don’t think our league got the respect that it deserved. We had three teams that were co-champions. One got a 7, one got a 10, and one didn’t get in.
“To me, that’s baffling.”
And then there’s this: The Atlantic 10 was rated the seventh-toughest conference in the nation based on RPI, one spot ahead of the American Athletic Conference. The A-10 sent three teams to the NCAAs while the AAC sent four. Then again, the AAC has programs that are far more well-known than St. Bonaventure.
Bona has a beef. They won 10 of their final 11 games, beat Dayton on the road, beat St. Joe’s twice, were in the top 30 in RPI and earned a share of the conference title. And yet they couldn’t even get an invitation into the First Four games in Dayton while Tulsa does?
They should be outraged.
Bracketologists had them between ninth and 11th seeds after the Davidson loss. The Bonnies gathered Sunday in the Hall of Fame room in the Reilly Center, electing to hold a private watch party over inviting to the media to capture their reaction upon hearing the news. They were bracing for exactly what happened.
The last time a team with the best record in the Atlantic 10 was denied an at-large bid was 2004-05, when St. Joe’s finished 14-2 in the conference. George Washington was 11-5 that year, won the conference tournament and received an automatic bid. It marked the last time the A-10 had only one team reach the NCAAs.
So it was always a possibility. It became a reality.
“It’s all politics,” Posley said. “That’s all it is.”