Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Guru Report: Rider and Drexel Women, Among Other Designates, Can Still Hang Banners

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

 ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - Apparently, at least in the case of two conferences for starters, if the Rider women and Siena men want to order banners to hang in their gyms to start next season as defending Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champions, feel free to use some of your unused NCAA tournament travel money to make the purchase.

Ditto Drexel per the Colonial Athletic Association. 

Off a quip that Drexel women’s coach Denise Dillon gave The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Mike Jensen Thursday soon after the CAA cancelled its women’s tournament, a question popped into your Guru’s head.

 Dillon’s Dragons were minutes from taking the floor at Elon University to begin quarterfinal play as the No. 1 seed when the CAA informed the squads the tournament, like at every other conference site, was being cancelled due to the evolving COVID-19 public health threat.

The move effectively cut short the normal process to declare champions advancing to the NCAA fields.

“I walked in the locker room, and said, ‘The bad news, we’re done. 

“The good news, we’re conference champions,’” Dillon told The Inquirer. That was based on being the top seed after tying James Madison for first in the standings. “It lightened the mood.”

Likewise, here, the Rider women, which had the top seed off a tie for first with Marist, were particularly devasted, while not precluding the national situation with the coronavirus.

The Broncs had had another terrific performance from senior Stella Johnson, the nation’s leading scorer, in a narrow quarterfinal win Wednesday over Niagara. 

They had already enjoyed their finest season in the program’s history.

Out of this, on Friday morning, a thought occurred: 

When the competition pages turn to the start of next season, can the Rider women and Siena men have a banner hanging and also call themselves defending MAAC champions in their respective media guides and other signage?

“Yes,” came the answer via text from MAAC commissioner Richard Ensor. “They won the tourney AQ when we cancelled championships.”

Conveying the news to longtime Rider coach Lynn Milligan, she texted back, “That would be great.

“This team had such an amazing season with an abrupt ending. Like so many other teams we will continue to process this,” she continued.

“We will find a way to celebrate the history this team made from being 12-1 at home to 26 wins to a regular season championship to bring the MAAC AQ for the NCAA tournament. All a first for our program.”

As for Drexel being able to make a similar purchase, a representative of the CAA said, “As the AQ at the moment the NCAA was in play and the No. 1 seed off their season, they can certainly call themselves defending CAA champions, but they can’t say defending CAA tournament champions.

“And (James Madison) can call themselves co-champions, since they tied for first, but with Drexel having the AQ, they can just say champions.”

What about NCAA recognition?

Discussing with an individual familiar with NCAA operations and policy at the organization’s headquarters, they responded, “An interesting question. 

“Technically, not our call or needed. 

“The 32 conferences identify their champions for the AQ slots on the men’s and women’s brackets.

“Not long ago, the Ivy League was the last to identify the regular season champions as the AQ before they began a tournament. 

“When the brief time the (NCAA) tournament(s) were still alive after cancellations begun, the conferences were identifying their AQ champions, in a new arrangement, but nevertheless, they were the official representatives.”

The ACC at its men’s event on Thursday, without starting a game, awarded Florida State, the top seed, the tournament championship with a trophy presentation after minutes before the Seminoles had been warming up when they were informed of the cancellation in Greensboro, N.C.

A bunch of women’s conferences had already completed play last weekend, particularly among the Power 5 group, and thus had a trophy when everything was on its normal course.

“You know, we talked about that a little bit,” said Diane Turnham, the NCAA tournament committee chairwoman out of Middle Tennessee.

Right before the official NCAA cancellation of both national tournaments, Turnham said her group, except a few having travel problems, had assembled 4:30 p.m. in Indianapolis to begin the normal selection of the 32 at-large teams and seeding of the 64-team field exercise.

“First and foremost, the No. 1 concern is the health crisis and safety of the student athletes and everyone else in the nation,” Turnham said.

“But when you think about what you say, we now have a unique situation, so it calls for unique responses,” she continued.

“Every year at the end only one team, two counting the WNIT, ends their season with a win, though some recover quickly after the disappointment of the loss,” she observed.

“But now you have a bunch of teams who finished with wins prior to the cancellations, so why not give them that honor and create some momentum moving forward going into the start of next season?”

Meanwhile, as to the national champ, while it won’t be decided among the top three favorites among South Carolina, Oregon, and Baylor, or a dark horse as to who will be the NCAA winner, the Gamecocks on Monday can make a case to revert to earlier days in football.

That’s when the polls in the fall decided national champions.

South Carolina is going to finish No. 1 in the final media women’s vote.

Thus, and if so choosing, likewise for the men, on its own the AP can create a trophy calling Dawn Staley’s group the Associated Press national women’s champions. 

The WBCA could decide likewise to put that label on the coaches’ trophy, though normally, per contractual arrangement, they do one more after the NCAA winner is decided and that team gets the WBCA hardware.

That’s it. Feel free to interact on the Guru’s twitter @womhoopsguru.









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