In just 11 days the SIU men’s basketball team opens its season against George Mason. But you won’t see any big-name schools on the slate this year.

By Gus Bode

There won’t be a repeat of last year, when the Salukis burst onto the national scene with a second-place finish at the Las Vegas Invitational with a three-point loss to No. 2-ranked Illinois.

The Salukis have no regular-season tournaments scheduled, and it wasn’t by choice.

Each of the last three years, the Salukis have participated in a holiday tournament, but they won’t be doing so this year because the NCAA refused to suspend the rule that limits teams to two exempt tournaments every four years.

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These exempt tournaments count as just one of the 28 games a team is allowed to play, but teams usually play three to four games in them.

Exempt tournaments can make a huge difference to a so-called mid-major team like the Salukis.

“Those games gave us an opportunity to not only play extra games, get extra wins, help our RPI, but to play bigger name schools on a neutral court with neutral officials,” said SIU head coach Bruce Weber.

These tournaments are just about the only way that mid-major college basketball teams have much of a chance to dethrone a big-name team.

Weber said the Salukis’ last two postseason appearances, the NCAA last season and the NIT in 2000, were aided drastically by exempt tournaments.

SIU, which was worried whether it would get into the NCAA Tournament last year, would have been in a much more tenuous position without the games in Las Vegas last year.

Mid-major teams are treated like second-class citizens in the college basketball world, and they don’t have the luxury to lose many games against their peers. Games in these tournaments are even more important in making up for the inevitable conference losses.

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The NCAA wants teams to play stronger schedules, but teams like the Salukis find it very difficult to work out an equitable deal to play games against big-name schools without these tournaments. If they don’t play these schools, the Salukis can’t hope for good seeding in the NCAA tournament, so the elimination of exempt tournaments is bad for parity in college basketball.

“Last year I don’t think Creighton would have made it in the [NCAA] tournament if they didn’t win the [MVC] tournament because they chose not to go to an exempt event,” Weber said. “Those extra games make a world of difference.”

Weber had to agree to go to Bloomington, Ind., twice just to get one home game against Indiana, and even then Indiana was doing the Salukis a favor. So scheduling regular-season games against the big boys is definitely a difficult chore, given the cowardice displayed by most of these teams when scheduling.

Big-name teams will play other big-name schools and they’ll play low-majors, but that leaves no room for the mid-majors.

Illinois is playing Lehigh, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Western Illinois in consecutive games this season. The Fighting Illini also play Eastern Illinois, so they’re apparently not afraid to play in-state teams that have no chance of beating them.

These exempt tournaments are what college basketball is all about. While it is exciting to watch Missouri beat Kansas, seeing Ball State knock off the Jayhawks is far more thrilling. Exempt tournaments give fans the chance to truly root for the little guy. And when the little guy wins, it creates some of the best moments in sports.

With all that the mid-major teams accomplished in last season’s NCAA tournament, these tournaments should have stayed.

Too many teams from big conferences already get into postseason play and get favorable seeding.

Most big-conference schools are already on national TV during the regular season, so they’ve already been given more than their 15 minutes of fame. It’s time for the big boys to share the spotlight with deserving mid-majors like the Salukis.

Ethan is a senior in journalism. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Egyptian.

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