CHICAGO -- For all he heard from outsiders about how difficult Big East life was, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey found it accommodating in this way: The league earned a lot of NCAA tournament bids -- it sent a record 11 teams into the bracket in 2011 -- and therefore most of its coaches stood a good chance of maintaining job security.
After one year in the ACC that resulted in six NCAA bids, and with Louisville joining the league this season, Brey has one imperative on his mind: "If we can't get this thing to eight bids," he said, "it's going to be hard on coaches."
His solution: Play more ACC games.
"One of the things I actually floated at the ACC meetings that's been getting shot down, but I'm going to stay with it, is 20 league games," Brey said after a Positive Coaching Alliance event Monday at the Willis Tower. "You remember the Big East, we were the first league to go to 18 league games, from 16 to 18. And in the league meetings, I'll never forget the argument, the Georgetown athletic director said, 'We can't do that, because in those 32 games, our teams will be 16-16, instead of in the non-league games we would be 28-4. It'll kill our RPI.'
"What it did was just the opposite. And you could almost say conspiracy theory a little bit in some of those years when we got 10 or 11 bids. It gave bubble teams yet another shot at a lot in league play in February. So I've actually said, 'Let's play 20, man.'"
Brey's team fell well short of NCAA contention in 2013-14, losing leading scorer Jerian Grant to an academic suspension for the spring semester and then finishing with a 15-17 record. But he's looking ahead to years when Notre Dame or others scrape to a .500 finish in league play while also considering the context of last year, in which N.C. State squeezed into the First Four as the sixth and final ACC team to receive a bid.
Give bubble teams more shots at the league powers, Brey says, and their RPIs benefit, win or lose. The ACC heavyweights like Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse and now Louisville likely will collect NCAA invites year after year, and that doesn't even mention a Virginia program that just earned a No. 1 seed in 2014. In theory, that doesn't leave many bids for the next-tier programs ... unless, according to Brey's plan, more ACC action helps them force the Selection Committee's hands.