New Commish Will Have a Lot on His Plate – From the Bird’s Nest
Keith Gill's first day as Sun Belt Commissioner is today.
He inherits a conference that's in better shape than it was seven years ago when Karl Benson took over. Football has finished in the top three of the Group of Five twice in the last three years, which means more College Football Playoff money. There's a new TV contract with ESPN and ESPN+ which is giving more exposure to the league than ever before. There is a Conference title game, nationally televised. And, the league now has five guaranteed bowl tie-ins, four of which are in the geographical footprint of the league.
Gill, of course, like Benson, wants to do better. He wants to see the Sun Belt be tops in the Group of Five. He wants to see a league member play in a New Years Six game. And, he'll work toward that goal.
Gill has some experience dealing with football. He played at Duke. He's worked at schools that play Power 5 football. But his last job with the Atlantic 10 tells me there's more to this hire than making football better. There were other candidates that were as, if not more qualified in that regard.
Nope. Gill is here to make Sun Belt basketball relevant.
Those of us who have been here a while remember when the Sun Belt was just outside the top ten in conference strength. Last year, it floundered around 17th. And, there have been years when the ranking would have made the league a low major rather than a mid major.
In an interview with Tim Buckley on theadvertiser.com, Gill presents himself as a "no rush" kind of guy. He's more of an analyze, then react person. And, there's nothing wrong with that.
The league is set to do a basketball schedule revamp beginning next year, reserving the last two weeks for a "pod" system where teams would spend the final four games playing teams like them in the standings to help the higher ranked teams improve their strength of schedule. And, ostensibly, in the process, strengthen a team's resume to get a higher seed in the NCAA Tournament. That was voted in by the league's athletic directors and will be similar to the model used by Conference USA this past season. That league's regular season champion, Old Dominion, won the regular season and league title and still received a 14 seed, the same as Sun Belt champion Georgia State.
A small sample size, to be sure. But telling.
Equally small in sample size is the shift from the RPI to the NET in calculating the strength of teams. But if year one is any indication, the Sun Belt got crushed by the new criteria. In the RPI, both Georgia State and Georgia Southern had RPIs in the top 75. Georgia State was in the 50's. But in the NET, those two schools were at 121 and 125. And, they were the highest rated teams in the conference.
I don't think two weeks of playing each other at the end of the season is going to solve that. And, it should be noted, coaches are starting to have buyers' remorse about the new scheduling. One coach in the league, in a recent interview, called it "stupid." It will be interesting to see what the AD's have to say about this at the spring meetings. Gill says he's in favor of giving it a shot.
Frankly, the only thing I like about this new format was the assurance from analyst Mark Adams that a scheduling alliance would be formed to help non-conference scheduling. But I've gotten no indication that any deals have been made. And, for me, that makes the whole thing a non starter. But, I don't get a vote.
While it is prudent that we get more information about how the "pod" system benefits the league (if at all) and how the NET continues to compare with the RPI, it doesn't take a rocket scientist, Albert Einstein or a graduate of Duke to discern the fact that the league's coaches need to do a better job of scheduling. And, it will probably take an edict from the league's AD's to get that done.
Several years ago, the Sun Belt came out with many criteria. One was the elimination of non D-1 games on the schedule. Currently the members can have two. Those are a point of contention with fans who really don't want to see a game against Middle Georgia, Mars Hill or Louisiana College. Those games won't hurt you in the RPI or NET rankings because they aren't considered. But I have to believe a selection committee looks at the number of overall D-1 wins on the resumes of participants. Coaches say it's the only way they can get the right number of home games. In my opinion, at the very least, a compromise (read: only one non D-1) is essential.
Another past criteria was the "149" rule. The AD's passed a rule where each school's non conference schedule had to have a cumulative average of 149 in the previous two year's RPI. Today, that number would be closer to 175 (the upper half.)
Now, I have no idea whether those criteria would work today. And, that's where the analysis of the NET and how it works is paramount. But it does make sense that if you play a stronger schedule (and win games) your resume will look better.
I do know this. Fans and administrators don't want to hear "our league is a one bid league." Having a one bid league isn't the end of the world. Accepting it, however, is a cop out.
The effort must be made to make this league better. It will take the league office, the AD's and the coaches working together to set a goal and go about finding the ways to reach it.
That's why Keith Gill was hired.
Let the analysis begin.