Lanny on Learning
pedagogy, the economics of, technical issues, tie-ins with other stuff, the entire grab bag.
Tuesday, May 23, 2023
Finding The Warm Glow
ULA’s approach is a finger-in-the-dike way to help LGBTIQ people survive now, hoping that other forces will be brought to bear that will do the heavy lifting. Even with that, ULA is desperate for more revenues to sustain the current effort.
This brings me to consider potential donors, who might help ULA. Yet to make this essay of general interest, I want to think through the problem a potential donor solves, regardless of the organization that might be the funding target. With this I have my experience as potential donor in addition to a reasonably good understanding of the economics involved.
Let’s consider whether the potential donor perceives the donation to matter. Some years ago I wrote a blog post called Mattering Bias, where I was trying to reconcile why some very rich potential donors willingly signed up for The Giving Pledge yet were notoriously anti-tax. Mattering requires the scale of the gift to be in line with the scale of operation of the recipient organization. Scaling of this sort does not hold with government spending, particularly at the federal level, where most people’s attitudes toward taxation might then be described by what economists call the free-rider problem.
What if the potential donor is not a member of the uber rich, will the donation then be consigned to not matter? No, but then the scale of the recipient organization must be smaller, to again come in line with the size of the donation. I can assert that a $5,000 donation made on behalf of ULA would matter, a lot. Those who are financially comfortable can afford to make such donations. This would greatly expand the pool of potential donors beyond the uber rich. Are such people willing to make donations of this magnitude? And, if so, how do they identify candidate recipient organizations?
Even if the donation does not matter, in the sense discussed in the previous paragraphs, some people will make the donation because it is the right thing to do. Microeconomic modeling being what it is, theoretically the donor is assumed to receive some psychic benefit from making the donation. This is the warm glow, as mentioned in the essay title. The idea stems from the late 1980s and the work of the economist, James Andreoni. If motivated purely by the warm glow and able to make a donation that is very modest in size, then much of the population can participate in charitable giving.
At the time of Andreoni’s work, email was in its infancy and most people had never heard of the Internet. Solicitations for funding were mainly by direct mail, which in addition to the postage carried the cost of preparing the mail message to be delivered. Thirty plus years later the cost of such messaging is considerably less. How has that impacted things?
Nowadays we all suffer from information overload, filtering out much of the messaging we receive without learning its contents. And in some cases, we do learn the contents but aren’t persuaded by them. Collectively this makes for a kind of market failure, as each solicitation sent weakens the possible impact of other solicitations. The net result is to condition us into becoming free riders, this even when we’d want to experience the warm glow, if only we didn’t feel so vulnerable and exposed by contributing in response to a decent solicitation. Is there a way out of this dilemma?
My answer is to ignore solicitations entirely and instead search for the organization to receive the donation. One issue is that not all organizations are on the up and up. How does one avoid being taken in? Large organizations generally face greater scrutiny and that may offer some reassurance. Alternatively, there are micro grant organizations. Two I know of are Spirit In Action and Amistad International. One might donate directly to them. Alternatively, seeing the organizations they support that have received multiple rounds of funding should offer assurance that the organizations are trustworthy. Yet another alternative is to focus on local organizations, where the word-of-mouth information flows are more reliable.
None of these are perfect solutions. But if the warm glow would fill some of the emptiness so many of us now feel, can we afford not to give it a try?
Monday, May 22, 2023
Revisiting The Umpire Theory Of Technology
I came up with this metaphor in late January of 2007, in a post called Learning Technology and "The Vision Thing". This was soon after the annual ELI conference and in my prior post I had been quite critical of the conference and the supposed vision it was attempting to convey to attendees. So, I provided an alternative in this post. The metaphor itself is explained early on as follows:
Let me begin with a little personal philosophy; I subscribe to the
Umpire Theory of Technology. According to that, in a baseball game the
umpire is absolutely critical to make the calls in an unbiased way. But
if you watch a game the only time the umpire gets noticed is when he
makes a bad call. If the umpire does his job very well, he becomes
invisible. Learning technology well employed should be invisible too.
It then follows that the visioning itself can't be about the technology. The technology only plays, at best, a supporting role. The visioning then must either be about aspirations for teaching and learning, in this post I articulated my aspirations about Humanism Across The Curriculum, a next generation view of Writing Across The Curriculum, or it must reflect current issues/problems with teaching and learning and then offer up problem solving solutions. (On the issues/problems I will offer one possible look in the discussion that follows.) Learning technologists might benefit themselves by an embrace of the Umpire Theory, at least temporarily, to give them a perspective where they can be self-critical about their beliefs and their practices with the technology. My belief is that such an exercise would be quite useful to learning technologists prior to a complete embrace of AI.
But in this piece I will have a historical look only, where I know something about what happened, and not discuss the present at all, since I've been out of it for some time. Yet I think the history tells us something about the present as there are persistent patterns with new technology adoption. Considering those patterns is where I hope there is benefit in this post. First, there is a tendency for learning technologists to become highly enthusiastic about the next big technology innovation. That enthusiasm served as one of the drivers for learning technologists to enter the field. And a certain fraction of instructors will likewise be so enthused, call them innovators or early adopters. This feeling that technology itself will drive major change is fueled by what the innovators and early adopters do with their teaching as a consequence of the technology.
I felt this way in the late 1990s, when the online components of instruction seemed to give courses a new vitality and in my campus role I got to talk with these early instructors who were doing wonderful things with their teaching, even if by current standards the technology itself was quite primitive. The drive and and creativity of these instructors infected me. For a while I became a true believer. Then, my little Center for Educational Technology, which had just come into being, had as its implicit mission to get as many courses as possible onto one of the learning management systems we then supported. I embraced that mission, at least for a while.
A variety of political economy issues got in the way of fulfilling that mission in a satisfying manner. We were underfunded from the get go and remained that way. There were other campus systems in support of instruction that had developed prior to the forming of my center, and those would have to be abandoned eventually. The transition to the learning management systems was painful. While we did offer small grants for adoption, followed by attendance at a multi-day workshop that would give instructors ideas about how to implement, we couldn't afford to make such workshops a pre-condition for adoption and many other instructors simply adopted the LMS, perhaps after getting some training on its functionality from one of my staff, though perhaps not. After a couple of years of this, we stopped giving out the small grants and providing the multi-day workshops, with the funding redirected into my Center's budget. Fast forward now several years to where scaling considerations forced us to embrace an "Enterprise Learning Management System" and convert courses from the previous systems or have the courses start anew, it was determined that upwards of 90% of the class sites used the LMS in such a lightweight way that conversion was unnecessary. Those facts were in the background when I wrote the visioning post.
Let me fast forward again another 5+ years and consider a different technology entirely, so as to begin to ask whether the prior experience generalizes. The following is from an email I sent to the Educause CIO listserv, which at the time was discussing the pros and cons of lecture capture technology.
It is interesting to read all these testimonials about lecture capture and how popular it is. However, given the recent NY Times piece about the value (or lack) of laptop initiatives, http://goo.gl/mzVge, it behooves us to remain skeptical about the value of lecture capture on learning, in spite of the admitted popularity. The argument against must be something like this – lecture capture encourages student effort to focus on the ability to reproduce the lecture. But we know from the How People Learn volume of a dozen years ago, http://goo.gl/ZZ8vQ, that learning happens primarily via “transfer.” At issue then is the impact of lecture capture on student efforts aimed at transfer. If students find transfer difficult but mastering the lecture within grasp, their preference for the technology is understandable. And instructors who want students to like their classes have reason to feed that preference. So it seems possible that the technology can be popular but the impact on learning might be nil. It would be good to gather data on this parse to try to relate lecture capture to transfer activities.
I want to note that my hypothesis at the end of this paragraph is not novel at all. It follows from what George Kuh called the Disengagement Compact, in this piece, What We're Learning About Student Engagement From NSSE. The operative paragraph is here:
And this brings us to the un-
seemly bargain, what I call the
"disengagement compact": "I'll
leave you alone if you leave me
alone." That is, I won't make you
work too hard (read a lot, write a
lot) so that I won't have to grade as
many papers or explain why you
are not performing well. The existence
of this bargain is suggested by the fact
that at a relatively low level of effort,
many students get decent grades - B's
and sometimes better. There seems to
be a breakdown of shared responsibility
for learning - on the part of faculty
members who allow students to get by
with far less than maximal effort, and
on the part of students who are not tak-
ing full advantage of the resources in-
Real learning is labor intensive. Technology can't change that, though perhaps it can save some time the student spends in activities that support the learning. I would argue that real teaching is labor intensive too. When I first started as an assistant professor in economics, back in 1980, almost all the faculty were tenured or on the tenure track. Then the reason to shortchange the time devoted to instruction, particularly at the undergraduate level, was that the added effort beyond some minimal level didn't count for promotion, tenure, or salary review. Nowadays, most of the undergraduate instruction on campus is done by adjunct (specialized) faculty. They have a different reason for participating in the Disengagement Compact. Lacking tenure, their job security hinges on students being satisfied, as indicated by the course evaluations administered near the end of the semester. If students are entirely instrumental in their approach, motivated by grades alone, not at all by learning, then by giving them good grades for comparatively little effort the instructor gets decent evaluations and to teach the course yet again.
Kuh's essay is from 20 years ago. Apart from the move to adjunct instructors, what has changed in that time and are things better or worse than they were then? My guess is that if you surveyed instructors who have been teaching undergraduates for the past 20 years or longer, many if not most would say that things are worse now. I would point to three factors to explain this. One is the decline in reading, particularly as a recreational vehicle and to stay informed about the world (in other words, non-course reading). Another is the mediation of communication via the smartphone, so face-to-face interpersonal skills don't have a chance to develop well. The third, something we've been talking about only comparatively recently (but this talk began well before Covid) is that so many students suffer from emotional health problems. In turn, this can be explained by the artificial nature of the game that is school which students play coupled with the high tuition they or their families must bear.
I want to make a few more points before giving some very broad stoke thoughts on what a fix might look like. One is about having an open conversation regarding these issues. Sometime after I became aware of Kuh's essay, I learned that the U of I participated in the National Survey of Student Engagement, but it didn't release the results publicly. We were strong in some areas, not so strong in others. Having the areas of weakness be considered in public media might have damaged the university's reputation. Why risk that?
The university did make some internal changes to address the findings. One of those was to develop a formal program of undergraduates engaged in research. But only a fraction students were involved in that, with the more elite students much more likely to be involved. This is another issue with a focus on student engagement, one I've found over the years in my own teaching. The better students liked my course a lot, though they were only 10-15% of the class. For much of the rest, it was a struggle. It is reaching the rest that is the real challenge.
There is a lot of inertia in how most instruction occurs. If a particular instructor tries to innovate in teaching, his students might find it a refreshing alternative to what they are getting in their other classes. But it can go the other way, with the students so accustomed by how their other courses are conducted that they are put off by the instructor's attempt at innovation. I've taught one course a year in retirement, ending in fall 2019. My experience is that it was the first way from 2012-2014, but became the second way during 2015-2017 and was even worse in 2019. (I didn't teach in 2018.) My current view is that for innovation to be successful it must happen across the board, not just in one course at a time.
On the other hand, the Center for Teaching, which most campuses have, tends to make their offerings opt-in for instructors. Unless there are mandates for innovation from individual colleges or departments, the opt-in approach is what's available to them because they don't have the leverage to do otherwise. But then those who do opt in are the usual suspects and only a small fraction of instructors while those who don't end up teaching courses that become very static.
Now to the suggestions. When I was still teaching, the discussion about student mental health focused on the lack of mental health professionals on campus, so the difficulty that students had in getting appointments with such professionals. There was essentially no discussion about whether the overall academic environment was creating many of these mental health problems. Now, with Covid in the rear-view mirror (we hope), it seems time to ask that question in a systematic way. This will require a serious evaluation effort of students, their friends and families, their instructors, and possibly the people they worked with during internships. In other words, lead with an evaluation, one where student mental health is the driver, but where the Disengagement Compact might linger in the background as an explanatory factor.
Campuses are unlikely to do this on their own, for reasons I've mentioned above. So outside foundations need to step up here to encourage this, with implied funding for remedies after the evaluation has produced its findings. Implicit in how I've written this post is that the issues I've identified will be found as significant factors in explaining the findings. The next few suggestions are based on that assumption.
There needs to be a major effort to move instruction from credentialing to learning. I've written about this a lot, for example in this post called Excise The Textbook. One should anticipate substantial resistance in making such a move, from both instructors and students. So there needs to be a plan to overcome that resistance. As I'm an economist, I'd look to incentives for doing this. Grant funding might very well be deployed to provide such incentives. Assuming that the initial resistance is overcome, at least for some subset of students and instructors, one question is whether this move to learning has legs that will endure beyond the grant funding. Another question arises if the initial group provides promising results. Will other groups then form that follow a similar path, even if there is no grant funding to support that?
Then there needs to be drill down on what a move from credentialing to learning looks like. My view is that high-stakes assessment, via exams and term papers, needs to be diminished if not totally eliminated. Regular low-stakes assignments must be done with much more attention to the student getting good feedback on those and that transfer of some sort is required to complete the assignments. The hope is that after the initial resistance students come to appreciate this alternative approach, want even more feedback, and begin to understand why the alternative has been put in place. Beyond that, one might hope that students learn to create their own low-stakes assessment as they begin along the path to self-teaching, one of the meta goals from moving to the alternative approach
There is the matter of who will write these new low-stake assessments and who will provide the feedback. On the latter, during the first year of writing blog posts I had a series on Inward Looking Service Learning, seven posts in all, based on my experience with peer-mentors who had previously taken my course as the ones providing the feedback, mainly via online office hours held in the evening. I thought it the biggest innovation in my teaching at the time, with the technology as an enabler, an early example of that. The INSL posts tried to generalize from that experience. But I want to note that in the course I was teaching, there hadn't been graduate student TAs. The undergraduate peer-mentors weren't substitutes for those. They could be afforded because my lecture went from about 60 students to about 180 students. So the approach de-emphasized the lecture and made the online office hours held by peer-mentors a feature.
Now there is a big deal with graduate student TAs unionizing because of feelings that they are being exploited. In courses where there are graduate student TAs, it would have to be worked out in advance that the use of undergraduate peer-mentors would be an addition to the overall labor in instruction. I'm afraid that under the current circumstances, where everyone seems to be feeling a budget pinch, that's unlikely to happen. But again, grant funders might come to the rescue, at least at first, so that pilot projects can demonstrate the feasibility (or not) of this suggestion.
As to the writing of the assessments, I've done that in my own teaching, so tend to minimize the effort entailed as well as the sense of competence in the subject matter that such authorship requires. But there is also the matter that it might seem to be a lot of work, so individual instructors will balk at it for that reason. This might be addressed by creating a team of instructors who teach the same course but at different institutions, to divide up the assessments to be written, with an agreement that the products will be part of an OER and that they will use the assessments written by other members of the team in their own teaching. This means they will also serve as peer-reviewers of these assessments as those are still in draft form. The authorship and the peer-review function will go hand-in-hand.
Sometime later, the students who do the work to complete these assessments can themselves be considered as reviewers, so their feedback on the assessments can be used in revising them. Further, students can be given extra-credit projects to write additional assessments and/or to revise the extra-credit project that was completed in a previous offering of the course, under the proviso that these extra-credit projects would also find their way into an OER. This would provide a mechanism for the assessments to stay current and students might then come to see themselves as authors, another step in the direction of self-teaching.
Let me wrap up. There may be a lot of wishful thinking in this visioning exercise. I have no doubt about it. I hope that readers aren't put off by it. The point is that it's been done without making technology the driver of the change. That makes as much sense to me now as it did when I originally came up with the Umpire Theory of Technology. And for learning technologists who typically assume technology should be the driver, it might be useful to think through for themselves an alternative view.
Wednesday, May 17, 2023
Cease and desist
He said to the cyst
But it kept on growing
With no signs of slowing.
Saturday, May 13, 2023
The Heavyweight Wrestling Approach to Politics
Humpty Trumpty sat on a wall
Waiting there for another cattle call
All the moguls and all his henchmen
Anticipating Trumpty will go at it again.
Thursday, May 04, 2023
If you inveigle Hegel with a bagel
Will it cause a pox because they're out of lox?
Monday, April 24, 2023
The Egress From Regress
If everyone else is moving back
Standing still takes up their slack.
Wednesday, April 19, 2023
When Adoration Was Part Of Education
Once upon a time
Before reason or rhyme
Students would bring their teacher an apple
In return for ideas with which they'd grapple.
Friday, April 14, 2023
A redundant colon
That has become swollen
And it also insisted
On being twisted.
As we age
Bodily idiosyncrasies engage
And then we find
It's not just about losing our mind.
Monday, April 10, 2023
When either come to pass
It's simply more classical gas.
Wednesday, April 05, 2023
Rumble Still Is In
As a teen I would mumble
Now I'm prone to grumble
When there's a buzz I bumble
Then fall from my perch in a tumble.
Monday, April 03, 2023
This Afternoon In The Low To Mid 70s
Walking in a daze
Trying to catch some rays
When the sun is shining
You know it's spring timing
Tricks on the mind, it plays.
Tuesday, March 28, 2023
My Take on Seeding in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament and the Effect of Conference Tournaments
There are some interesting puzzles posed by the results so far in March Madness. Before I get to them, here are a few preliminaries. First, rankings are of two varieties - ordinal (the seedings provide ordinal rankings of teams) and cardinal (the Sagarin ratings claim to provide cardinal rankings of teams). Ordinal rankings can be used to determine which team is the favorite and which team is the underdog. But ordinal rankings are insufficient to determine the odds in a head-to-head match-up. Cardinal rankings can do that, so can suggest whether the game is close to a you-pick-em, with the odds near 50-50, or if one of the teams is an overwhelming favorite. If you think of seeding versus team quality as plotted to form a "quality hill," then the ordinal rankings themselves can't distinguish from a gradually rising hill, more like a plateau, from a steeply sloped hill. The gradually rising hill will likely produce more "upsets" since the teams are pretty evenly matched. The steeply sloped version should produce more lopsided wins by the favorites. I think it's not a bad inference to say that this year there was no super team, but rather a bunch of good teams that were competitive. The gradually rising hill metaphor seems to hold in 2023.
These rankings depend on the history of play during the season. Pretty much everyone agrees with that, though I will raise a criticism about that experience in a bit. Here are a few issues that have been with us for some time. Should the experience simply measure wins versus losses (and the quality of the opponent played) or should the entire scoring history during the game matter. Take a look at this, from the Illinois at Purdue game, the last game of the regular season.
ESPN provides a game flow diagram for each game. Purdue had the lead for much of the game. Illinois developed a reputation during the season as a come-from-behind team. The score was actually tied with 1:17 left in the game. Purdue won out, but the game was close at the end. Purdue became a number 1 seed in the Tournament. Illinois was a 9 seed.
One game does not a season maketh or, statistically speaking, be wary of inferences from small samples. Purdue did win its prior game against Wisconsin, but it was a nail-biter. Before that Purdue lost to Indiana and a couple of games before that there was a bad loss to Maryland. Does that look like the play of a number 1 seed? Purdue did win the Big Ten Tournament. Winning the regular season and the tournament likely were enough to give Purdue that number 1 seed.
But there might be something else that explains things, which is how Purdue played in December. Purdue went into the season unrated, outside of the top 25 in both the AP and UPI polls. By week 6 they were rated number 1, after impressive wins over Gonzaga and Duke. Plus, Zach Edey seemed the dominant player in college basketball at the time. That impression endured, even if Purdue's late season performance didn't quite support it. So, this brings about another question. Should games in December count as much as games in late February and early March? One response might be that it depends on who the opponent is, as those December games are played out of conference.
It is my understanding that the conference itself sets the schedule for conference games, with perhaps some input from the individual schools about holidays, final exams, and other possible information that might make the date a no go. But the individual schools put together their non-conference schedules. Of course, money matters here. It matters a lot. I'm not current about revenue sharing agreements within conferences, but I assume that schools get to keep a greater share of the revenues from the non-conference games they play. In the old days, before there were multiple cable TV channels that would carry college basketball games as part of their normal fare, there were perhaps three or four national games on the weekend, aired on the major networks, or there was local TV only. Given that, name brand teams had incentive to schedule a lot of home games against cream puffs, teams that wouldn't demand a home and home playing agreement, would take a modest amount of the gate revenue, because they would welcome the exposure given by playing a big school. Now there is incentive to play other name brand teams, quite possibly at neutral sites, to get the better TV coverage. In addition, the NCAA has strength of schedule as one of the factors that matter in getting into the tournament and in seeding the teams that do get in.
This plays against the mid-major schools that have good teams. I find it amazing that even today Sagarin has Illinois ranked ahead of FAU (though just barely) while Illinois was one-and-done and FAU is in the Final Four! This seems like a measurement error by Sagarin. It can be "explained" by looking at FAU's rather low strength of schedule rating. Which power team would schedule them in the preseason? While they might be a fan favorite now as the underdog that made it to the Final Four, nobody knew that would happen back in December. They were simply a no-name at that point. So they scheduled the games they could get. Ditto for Fairleigh Dickinson (which upset Purdue and then lost in a reasonably close game to FAU).
If these schools show consistent excellence in men's basketball in the upcoming years, they will develop a reputation and be able to get around this issue of pre-conference scheduling. Gonzaga has shown that can be done. But the more typical pattern is for the coach to leave for greener pastures and then the team will revert to its past mediocrity. Thus, when there is a very big fish school playing in a small pond conference for the first time, it is difficult to know just how big the fish is. This particular NCAA Tournament has made the issue acutely evident. I'm not sure there is a good solution to it. But I want to make one other point that might matter in getting it resolved.
Being a college basketball player for a team that has a chance to get to the Tournament is a full-time commitment and for many college players it may be seen as a path to their career - playing pro ball, or coaching at some level, or becoming a commentator or announcer. There will be some players who see their career path as elsewhere, say in business, medicine, or teaching. Then, part of the choice of which school to attend will depend on how they perceive it to prepare them for that path. But for those in the first category, having the chance to play immediately and showcase what they can do is likely much more important to them than to chose a school based on academics. Further, now with the Transfer Portal, if they do well playing-wise early on they can then transfer to a big-time school after that, assuming the latter will give them more exposure and more chances to play against better competition, giving them other options than declaring for the NBA draft immediately.
Further, talented younger coaches, whom players might relate to better than their more senior counterparts, are likely to start their careers at mid-major schools. That's been with us right along. I'm just including it here now to make the case that another FAU in the near future is more likely than it was in the past. If I'm right about that, the NCAA might want to think through how to address the big fish in a small pond issue. The power conferences clearly would prefer that it doesn't happen, for it seems to question their legitimacy. I don't see an answer here, but I do see that a lot of hair pulling will be likely.
Now let me turn to a different issue. It's always been true that a team in December is not the same as the team in March. The hope is that the players grow, individually and as teammates, so teams are better in the spring than they were the previous fall. Of course, injuries can make that go in the other direction. And so can emotional/psychological issues within the team that the fans aren't usually aware of. But let's face it. Many if not most college students have been having such emotional issues, as a consequence of life under Covid, the nature of college education today, and student loan debt exerting pressure of various sorts. I'm ignorant about how NIL is playing out in reality, but I can guess that it might cause a lot of jealousy and discontent within a team, as will the coach's decisions on who plays and when, which indirectly impacts this money flow. Those money issues were not on the table before. (Other money issues were. I'm not trying to argue that NIL is bad, only that coaches likely haven't fully anticipated its consequences.) Further, the huge amount of money that is in what the head coach gets paid, and what the university makes from its NCAA sports activities, might really bum out the players if they feel they aren't getting a fair shake. Without going further down this path, I'm just saying there are reasons why now is the winter of their discontent.
For assessing how a team will do in the tournament, you need an accurate assessment of how the team is doing now. This is an argument that recent games matter more, as they should be incorporated in that assessment in a different way than early games. But if the early schedule matters not as much, then the NCAA is put in a bind of incentivizing schools to schedule high quality opponents in the preseason. Why are they doing this? Why don't they instead try to encourage power conference schools to play mid-major schools? But it also might be an argument that the division between preseason and conference games gets changed, with some out-of-conference games scheduled in February and early March. In the Big Ten this past season, where Purdue had a lock on the regular season championship, that might have actually increased fan interest. In a different conference, where the conference champion wasn't determined till the last week of the season, such games might seem only a distraction.
* * * * *
Now I want to turn my attention to the conference tournaments. I can remember back to when the Big Ten actually had ten teams, and the conference schedule for Big Ten Men's Basketball had a home and home round-robin where each team played every other team twice, once at home and once away. Bob Knight famously argued against the tournament, as this regular season schedule offered the fairest way to select the conference champion. Of course, since then the Big Ten has increased its membership, a round-robin with a balanced schedule is no longer feasible. A tournament might be fairer now, though we still announce the regular season champion as well. But that is not the reason why it was argued that the Big Ten needs a tournament. Rather, it was said that a conference tournament would better prepare schools for the NCAA Tournament, increasing the chances that Big Ten schools would perform better in the latter. That's the issue I want to take on here.
I don't want to deny that the effect might have once existed. But conferences, at least some of the major ones, have since grown larger. Further, over-scheduling has since become the norm. The Illinois Coach, Brad Underwood, has complained about too intensive a schedule on multiple occasions, and not just this year. It's from listening to him that I'm getting the hypothesis. If, as I said earlier, teams can get a lot of attention now on TV by playing other teams with whom they are competitive, then why not schedule those games? But the players on those teams are young men who are not yet professional athletes and who don't have any say in the frequency at which games are played.
Regarding how this over scheduling during the regular season impacts play in the NCAA Tournament, it is worth noting that Michigan State was the only Big Ten team this year to make it to the Sweet Sixteen. They actually played one game less during the regular season than other teams, because their opponent had too few players due to Covid and they couldn't get the game rescheduled in time. They also lost their first game in the Big Ten Tournament. Contrast how they did to Purdue's performance.
Similarly, in the Big East, UConn lost early in their conference tournament, but has made it to the Final Four. Similarly Creighton lost in a nail biter to to UCSD in the Elite Eight, but lost by a big margin to Xavier in a semifinal of Big East Tournament, and that happened the Friday before so gave them ample time to recover for the NCAA Tournament.
So, here's the message. With the increase in conference size among the power conferences and the over scheduling in general that has resulted from the profitability of games on TV, good teams are exhausted at the end of the season. Those that know they will make the NCAA Tournament have incentive to sandbag the conference tournament, giving them more time to recover. Just to give one other example, Miami, which lost in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament, is in the Final Four. Miami lost to Duke, the ultimate winner of the ACC Tournament. In turn, Duke lost fairly handily to Tennessee in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. So, what purpose do the conference tournaments serve nowadays, other than to get more revenue from that fans? And if this analysis is right, this purpose can no longer be served, once the fans come to realize what is going on.
In a conference where there will only be one member that makes it to the NCAA Tournament, and that member is determined by the conference tournament, the conference tournament will retain meaning. But in the other case where schools will lose their conference tournaments but will get placed into the NCAA Tournament due to their excellence in play during the rest of the season, they will make their preparations for the NCAA Tournament so as to ignore, as much as possible, their conference tournament. This seems evident. Is there anything to do about it?
While it's easy to imagine that Brad Painter would complain about his team's fatigue before it played FDU, would Jim Larrañaga do likewise, now that Miami is going to the Final Four? If not, this might seem more like sour grapes than a real issue. Until you hear the post mortems from those who have benefited from the current system, I don't think this is a problem that can be solved. But then again, those beneficiaries have little incentive to raise these issues.
A feasible change that might help, especially once a true round-robin regular season can no longer happen because there are too many teams in the conference, would be to shorten the regular season by a couple of games and then hold the conference tournament over two weeks, with winning teams playing either Thursday-Saturday or Friday-Sunday, at least during the first week. This would lessen the role of the conference tournament as its own endurance contest and more closely emulate how it is done in the NCAA Tournament. Would such a change eliminate the sandbagging by teams that are evidently already being selected for the NCAA Tournament? I don't know, but I think it's worth knocking that idea around some.
Watching the games this past weekend, it seemed to me that at least a couple were decided by injuries incurred during the game to key guards that were a consequence of some violent contact with an opposing player. We treat that as if it's part of the game, and so it is. The coach can't do much about it then, other than hope that the player can gut it out during the rest of the game. But when injuries to important players are sustained in practice and/or in earlier games, the coach will look to lengthen the downtime, if at all possible, to better improve the chances of recovery. Fatigue and injury are not the same, especially if the former is considered purely from a physical standpoint. If, however, you take into account burnout and mental health, the two might start to look quite similar. Care about the players along these lines might motivate my suggested change.
On the other hand, teams tend not to disclose non-obvious injuries to players, and having a mental health professional as part of the support group for the team might be a no-no. These are matters outside my scope of knowledge.
So, what might be done, purely from a fan standpoint, is to track performance in the conference tournament versus performance in the NCAA Tournament among power conference teams, and do so for the last 5 or 10 years. This year could be an outlier that way. I'm thinking it's the new normal, but who knows?