March is the time of year when the inner gambler inside many of us rears its ugly head, causing us to enter bracket pools and eagerly pour over the results of obscure conference results to see which of the mid-majors from conferences like the Horizon Conference (home of two-time NCAA tournament runner-up Butler), the Colonial Athletic Conference (home of mid-major darlings George Mason University and Virginia Commonwealth University, the winner of this year’s conference tournament), and others. Thirty-one conferences receive automatic bids to the 68-team NCAA basketball tournament, affectionately called March Madness, ranging from massive conferences like the 12-team Big 10 and the 16-team (for now) Big East, both of which may approach 10 bids into the tournament, to conferences like the Southwestern Athletic Conference and Northeast Conference, who are lucky to get one bid, usually in a less-than-desirable “play-in” game against some other school from a puny conference.
But at least they get bids, and at least one month a year people pay attention to their conference to see teams like Lehigh and Bucknell, or Long Island University and Robert Morris University or the University of North Texas and Western Kentucky University compete for those precious automatic bids. Certainly, most of these teams are expected to lose. A few of these mostly obscure schools with unheralded programs may win a game, much fewer more than that. Last year half of the final four–Butler and Virginia Commonwealth–was made up of these “mid-major” schools. Given the strength of schools like Harvard and Creighton and Murray State, the hope is that at least one more school will approach such heights again this year.
But imagine if you will if you made a conference and almost nobody cared. Imagine if your conference crowned a champion, but that conference did not appear on Yahoo’s rather large list  of college teams. Such a conference exists; it’s the Great West Conference. This conference is not recognized, apparently, by the NCAA. Its members are all counted by Yahoo as being independents, and the conference records of the teams are entirely neglected, except on the Great West Conference website . Here, if anyone is curious, we see that Utah Valley University won the regular season of the Great West Conference by three games over the University of North Dakota, and by larger margins over conference mates New Jersey Institute of Technology, University of Texas-Pan American, Houston Baptist University, and Chicago State University.
But sadly, few people know and even fewer care. Unlike even obscure conferences like the Ohio Valley Conference or Summit Conference, the winner of the Great West Conference Tournament does not go to the NCAA to be a low-seed underdog. It is instead entirely ignored. Regular season champions of such small conferences are guaranteed a spot in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), the consolation prize for failed bubble teams as well, but the champion of the Great West Conference does not even receive a spot there. Instead, the champion of the Great West Conference Tournament receives a guaranteed spot in the College Insider.com tournament, the CIT, the lowest of four postseason tournaments that college basketball has to offer . Some prize.
In fact, the purgatory of the Great West Conference is so terrible that it has been losing teams at an alarming rate. This past year South Dakota fled to the Summit Conference, where it won its first spot in the NCAA tournament by winning this past week, after heavily favored Oral Roberts University lost in the semifinals. Next year, Houston Baptist University will take a place in the Southland, another obscure conference, where it will play against mostly Texan opposition. But the Great West Conference will attempt to soldier on and remain viable until 2020, when the NCAA will finally permit them to receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, if they survive that long. We’ll see.
Until then, the fans of the lonely and obscure schools of the Great West Conference will languish in obscurity, playing in a conference that almost no one has ever heard of for almost nothing save pride and the chance to play against fourth-tier schools in a tournament that almost no one cares about. But here at Edge Induced Cohesion, we care about the obscure and neglected areas that are forgotten by most, and so here we raise a glass of bottled water to cheer on the Great West Conference, in the hopes that they may find a better fate than to language in undeserved isolation. May your brief moment of March Madness come soon, so that your schools can take their place with the would be Cinderellas of March. Salute!