As a Big Ten basketball fan, I feel spoiled. Not only is the Big Ten the most competitive conference from top to bottom, it has the best coaches and its own beautiful, everything-in-HD channel. Seriously, almost every night there’s a game in the conference worth watching – that is unless Iowa is playing.
I feel lucky. Because there are some god awful conferences out there. Take a look at the Pac-10 this year. Not only is no Pac-10 team ranked in the AP Top-25 for the first time in 22 years, no school from the conference even received a vote this week! Hell, Harvard got a vote. That’s historically bad.
So we know the Pac-10 is bad, but I’m here to tell you there’s a conference much worse. I’ve seen it with my own eyes and the evidence is pretty damning.
Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the worst conference in college basketball. The Southwestern Athletic Conference. Or the SWAC.
As an intern in Birmingham, Ala., I covered the SWAC Tournament. I give the guys props for effort, but besides me the only other media there was some guy from the New York Times working on a piece about the struggles of historically black schools when it comes to the NCAA Tournament.
I remember a few things during my two-day SWAC duty. The games were sloppy, the crowds were sparse and the bands provided most of the entertainment.
This year, I pray nightly for the latest spring intern because the SWAC is epically bad. It’s worse than Charles Barkley on “SNL.” Much worse.
The highest rated RPI any team from the SWAC has is Prairie View A&M at 225.
Prairie View’s non-conference wins have come against overfunded intramural teams Schreiner, Ecclesia, Dallas Christian, Champion Baptist College and Florida Gulf Coast.
In a humbling side note, my Indiana Hoosiers come in at a whopping 242 in CBS’s RPI.
Six of the 10 schools in the conference have a RPI in the 300s. Alabama A&M is ranked dead last at 347th. A&M has three wins. Its conference mate, winless Alcorn State, is inexplicably 10 spots higher. The winless Steve McNairs come in at No. 337.
As a whole the SWAC won 22 non-conference games this season. Only seven of those wins came against other Division I programs. The other 15 wins came against schools from NAIA, Division II, Division III and something called the National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association. Ever hear of the Oakwood Ambassadors? Or Ambassadores for the ladies team.
“Oakwood University. Education. Excellence. Eternity.”
In NCAA Tournament play the SWAC is the Ivy League’s little sister. Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, a team from the SWAC has been a No. 16 seed 11 times.
The highest seeded SWAC team was the 1993 Southern Jaguars, who were seeded 13th. And apparently for good reason, as they beat Georgia Tech 93-78 in the first round. Tom Friend was there for the New York Times. It’s the only victory for the SWAC since the tournament expanded the field from 52 teams when the SWAC would occasionally win a game in the tournament’s preliminary rounds.
In efforts to perhaps help the SWAC get a taste of victory in NCAA Tournament play again, the Selection Committee has put SWAC teams in four of the nine Play-In games since its inception. But alas, the SWAC team lost every time.
That doesn’t mean the SWAC isn’t without its fleeting moments of could-have-been glory. In 1995, No. 15 Texas Southern took defending national champion Arkansas to the limit. The Razorbacks narrowly escaped 79-78. They went on to the national title game before losing to UCLA.
I highly doubt we’ll see Prairie View A&M push Kentucky to the limit this year. Heck, A&M would be hard-pressed to give Monmouth a game.
Now to their credit, SWAC teams schedule difficult games. It’s the only way they can sustain their programs financially.
Arkansas Pine-Bluff entered conference play 0-11. The Golden Lions started the season with 11 straight non-conference road games. Pine Bluff went to Colorado, UTEP, Arizona State, Michigan, Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech, Missouri, Kansas State and Oregon as part of its non-conference slate. Though only Pine Bluff’s game at Akron finished with a margin in single digits (68-65 in favor of the Zips).
But it never helps the conference RPI when Jackson State loses 92-39 to Tulsa or Prairie View A&M, the conference’s highest rated team, loses by 29 to Iowa, the worst team in the Big Ten, though it pains me to say Indiana isn’t too far behind.
It’s official: the SWAC is whack.