Atlantic Sun Conference makes no sense

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 25, 2003

By the time two weeks have gone by, Troy State will be the only member of the Atlantic Sun from the state of Alabama.

Once the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament is over, the basketball version of the conference will say goodbye to Jacksonville State and Samford, leaving only the Trojans in the conference.

Before then, though, those teams will have to deal with the odd happenings of the conference.

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When the conference decided to divide the team into a North and South division, I don't think anyone thought about the technicalities involved. This is the only year the conference will have divisional play, but it is enough.

For instance, if Troy State and Mercer win out this week, they will split the conference title. Mercer has the tiebreaker by virtue of a 2-0 record against Central Florida, and Troy State split the meetings with the Golden Knights.

If that happens, Troy State will enter the tournament as the third seed. That's right, Belmont, who would finish at least a game back of both teams (two games back should Belmont lose to Samford Friday night), would have a higher seed than Troy State. The Trojans defeated Belmont this season on the road in their only meeting.

Lest you think that is only mildly ridiculous, the Absurd Sun Conference gets even better further down the line.

The top two teams in each division are seeded 1-through-4, with the divisional winners being seeded 1-through-2 and the runners up seeded 3-through-4. Sounds simple, until you realize that Samford could lose Friday night to Belmont and if Jacksonville State dropped both games to Campbell and Gardner-Webb (not likely, but possible), Samford would still be the No. 4 seed.

If Central Florida wins its final game Friday, the Golden Knights would be 11-5 in the conference and, if the above situation occurs, would be the fifth seed despite finishing two games ahead of the four seed.

The fact is, Central Florida could finish with the third best conference record and still be the fifth seed. The Knights cannot finish higher than fifth, no matter what happens this weekend.

However the final weekend goes in the tournament, the three best teams in the conference get the short end of the stick. Although Belmont is good and has already clinched the North Division championship, it is clear that Belmont had an easier schedule.

The South Division won 24 of the 36 interdivisional games. Belmont had two games against Campbell and Gardner-Webb and lost to Stetson, the South Division's equivalent.

Troy State swept all six games against the North, wining three games on the road. The Trojans shot 0-for-16 from the three-point line in the second half against Gardner-Webb and still game back from 13 down in eight minutes. Belmont could not even put Troy State away on its home court with a 14-point halftime advantage.

Someone out there will say, "That's the way the SEC does it. Why worry about divisional play when everyone knows this is the way it happens."

Well, the reason it matters is that the Atlantic Sun is not the SEC. If Georgia finishes with a better conference record than Mississippi State and Auburn but is seeded lower, it does not matter because Georgia is still going to the NCAA tournament.

The Atlantic Sun does not have that luxury. It is already sad enough that of Central Florida (18 wins), Mercer (from 6-23 last year to 20 wins with two left) and Troy State (21-5), two will not make it to the NCAA Tournament.

The conference has made it even tougher for the teams who dominated the regular season to make it to the Big Dance.

I imagine Samford and Jacksonville State can't wait until next year.