One of the mid-major basketball conferences, Conference USA, is unbalancing its schedule with the hope of getting more teams invited to the national tournament.
According to a post on conferenceusa.com, the top five teams in the standings will be placed in a pod and play each other in a round robin, teams six through 10 will also do this and the bottom four teams will play each other. A team can't fall out of its pod for seeding purposes in the conference tournament. In other words, a team in the top pod can't finish lower than fifth, while a team in the middle pod can't get better than a sixth seed or worse than a 10th.
It's not quite the Swiss system pairing approach from chess that I contend has possibilities for the basketball tournament, although it shares with that approach the pairing of teams with more wins in the later rounds.  In addition, the guarantee of a tournament seed no worse than a team's position after fourteen games echoes the "grandmaster norm." A player cannot become a grandmaster without sufficiently many wins and draws against other grandmasters, blowing out hundreds of club players doesn't do it.  (Are they paying attention in Storrs?) Likewise, the fifth-seed in the top pod might finish with more losses in conference than the sixth-seed, but the rationale appears to be that the ultimate first and second seeds in the conference tournament have played a tougher schedule in the top pod, than they would have simply playing the usual pot luck of the last four games.  That gets reinforced if some of the top teams have wins over grandmasters, er, power conference teams, in November and December.  But those teams have to actually play well against power conference teams, selling wins to Wisconsin or Duke for the travel guarantee isn't going to cut it.

There are no plans, just yet, for the Mid-American Conference to imitate Conference USA.
[Conference] Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher applauded C-USA’s effort and said the MAC has thought of similar ideas.

However, the MAC’s biggest emphasis regarding scheduling in recent years has been nonconference opponents, Steinbrecher said.

The conference rewards teams that play at least 15 home games, which requires MAC teams to host more nonconference opponents.
Yes, with all those financially strapped basketball arenas masquerading as convocation centers, getting home dates and selling food is part of the mission.  That might not be the best strategy for strengthening your non-conference schedule, with the power conference teams able to buy wins with revenue guarantees.  On the other hand, beating a middling member of a power conference on the road boosts your rating, grandmaster norm or not.
[Conference USA will provide its] top-five teams more opportunities to earn victories that the NCAA tournament selection committee categorizes as Quadrant 1 (home versus the top 30 on the rating percentage index and road against the top 75). The format precludes C-USA’s top five teams from facing low-ranked RPI teams [based, presumably, on their in-conference performance] which doesn’t strengthen a postseason résumé.
There are only 68 slots in the tournament, and, somehow, the power five conferences grab a lot of them: the chances of a runner-up in one of the mid-major conferences popping a bubble don't strike me as being terribly enhanced by the approach.
The MAC finished last season with the 12th-best conference RPI in NCAA Division I (0.5091) out of 32 conferences. It had a better RPI than C-USA (0.4896), the West Coast Conference (0.4934) and the Western Athletic Conference (0.4928).

Despite the MAC’s recent efforts regarding scheduling, the results haven’t came through. The league hasn’t received an at-large bid since 1998.

“You can’t paint with a broad brush,” Steinbrecher said. “Our teams aren’t going into league play and losing RPI points much by who they’re playing. Our focus is external.

“We have to do a better job on the upper part of our league. We need teams struggling on the low end to schedule differently than teams who know they’ll compete for a conference title.”
Cynical Me suggests: sell a few wins to the Dukes and Wisconsins to boost the conference's aggregate strength of schedule?

Perhaps the way to get additional teams into the tournament is to ... put together stronger teams.  Last winter, the smart money suggested that the Mid-American would only get the conference tournament winner into the women's tournament because the at large possibilities (some combination of Buffalo and Central Michigan and Ohio and Toledo) would beat up on each other during the regular season.  Sorry, Buffalo.  Oh, wait.

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