Culbreath: MAC denies UT recognitionWritten by Matt 'Shaggy' Culbreath | | firstname.lastname@example.org
This past Tuesday, the Toledo Rockets men’s basketball team laid a 70-46 whooping on Northern Illinois in the final home game of the regular season. At that same time, the Western Michigan Broncos suffered a tough loss to the Ball State Cardinals, 89-85. This sent the two teams into the weekend with identical 9-6 conference records, tied at the top of the MAC West division. It’s anybody’s game.
Just don’t tell that to the Mid-American Conference, which happily congratulated WMU on winning the West on Twitter.
Of course, it goes back to those dastardly NCAA sanctions. See, the grades of the athletes in the program were not so hot under former coach Gene Cross (and, frankly, neither was the basketball). Cross was shown the door, Tod Kowalcyk comes in, and the difference was nearly immediate. But the NCAA doesn’t deal in immediates, they deal in 4 year averages. Those grades under the old regime affect the new. Last season, it was reduced scholarships. This year, they changed the punishment to postseason bans. Toledo, still suffering under the sins of the past, are not allowed in the MAC Tournament, the NCAA Tournament, the NIT, or any of the other tournaments out there. So it goes.
The Mid-American Conference, though, decided it wasn’t enough. The conference has decided that they will not recognize Toledo as a division champion if they were to win. Even though Toledo was on the ballot in the preseason poll (and, in fact, was picked to win the West), apparently they’ll be denied official recognition.
I’m not ragging on the initial punishment of the postseason ban. It’s a little contentious, sure: Toledo had bad grades, but they fixed the problem. The NCAA doesn’t view it as punishing the players — they’re punishing the program. I get that logic. I don’t have to like it, but I understand. What I don’t understand is why the MAC is piling on the Rockets instead of holding them up as a program that has succeeded in spite of the setbacks.
Is it an NCAA rule? Not that I can tell. The Academic Progress Rates rules say that failing to meet the APR scores affects only postseason access. Is it an unspoken rule across conferences? Doubtful: after the football season, the Big Ten proudly proclaimed Ohio State as their Leaders Division Champions after they finished the season 12-0. Their postseason ban only meant Wisconsin would represent the division in the championship game.
So why the hate, MAC? You’ve had no problems honoring the individuals on the team: Rian Pearson has been named MAC West Player of the Week five times this year. All the conference has offered is a blurb in their March 5th Men’s Basketball Daily press release: “Toledo is ineligible for this year’s Tournament and cannot win the MAC Regular Season title or West Division title due to APR sanctions passed down by the NCAA.” That release, by the way, is no longer easily located on the mac-sports.com website. I hope that it’s because they’re reconsidering.
By the time you read this article, it could all be a moot point. Toledo wraps up the season in Ypsilanti against Eastern Michigan this Saturday at noon, while Western Michigan hosts Central Michigan. If the Rockets fall to the Eagles and the Broncos win, then it’s their title, fair and square. If Toledo wins against EMU, however, then lets see the conference try and stop them from raising a banner at Savage Arena.
Coach Tod Kowalcyk has turned around the Rockets basketball program, both on the court and in the classroom. I’m not asking for the Mid-American Conference to sneak Toledo in the back door at Quicken Loans Arena to play in the tournament. That punishment has been laid out, and the team has not only played under those punishments, they’ve succeeded in spite of them. There’s no need to rub salt in the wound. If Toledo earns the MAC West title, the conference needs to honor it.