LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Only one conference has sent more teams to the Final Four in this decade than the Metro Conference. But last season the Metro didn't even get a team into the tournament and that could happen again this year.
The problem? Probation and mediocrity.
The mediocrity is mending but probation is twice the problem.
Louisville, the defending national champion last season, tumbled to 18-14 and lost to Memphis State in the Metro Conference tournament finals. Since Memphis State was on probation it was ineligible to go to the NCAA shootout.
And Louisville, much to the chagrin of Coach Denny Crum, didn't get an at-large bid.
So the Metro, which sent Memphis State, Virginia Tech and Louisville to the NCAA tournament two years ago when Louisville won and is second only to the Big East in tournament teams in the 1980s, missed March madness.
And with South Carolina and Virginia Tech on probation this year, the conference faces the same dilemma.
"Since it is a repeat performance, doubled in magnitude, it is a situation that has the potential to be quite explosive," said Southern Mississippi Coach M.K. Turk.
"The only way to avoid that would be to reconsider whether teams on probation could play in the postseason tournament."
The issue will likely be a hot topic when the league's athletic directors meet Dec. 3 in Atlanta to decide Virginia Tech's postseason status. South Carolina was cleared last spring to play in the 1988 tournament.
Why let teams on probation play in the Metro tournament? The not-so-surprising answer is money.
Proceeds from the tournament make up about 60% of the league's yearly operating revenue, Metro Commissioner Ralph McFillen said. Memphis State's ability to draw fans to the conference tournament kept the Tigers in the Metro playoffs last year.
"I would be very miffed if we're not allowed to play now that this precedent has been set," said Virginia Tech interim coach Frankie Allen.
Cincinnati Coach Tony Yates agrees.
"If someone else is willing to pay that freight, then those teams can be eliminated from the tournament. But I don't think anybody is going to do that," Yates said. "A precedent has been set and we have to live with it."
South Carolina Coach George Felton equated the situation to family life. "It's just like when someone in your family does something wrong, you just don't throw them out," he said.
It's a good thing, then, that Crum isn't doling out the punishment.
"When the NCAA puts you on probation you're supposed to be punished," said the Louisville coach. "Why should teams that are ineligible for the NCAA tournament be able to affect teams that are eligible?
"It's really a slap at the NCAA to allow teams to participate," he added. "I'm hopeful that somehow they'll see the light."
Louisville was so upset at not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament last season, the team turned down an invitation to the NIT, which was won by Southern Mississippi.
Perhaps Florida State Coach Pat Kennedy summed it up best when he said: "The greatest solution is not having any teams on probation."
And Felton, Allen and Memphis State Coach Larry Finch said they are working toward that goal.
Felton said he is "not going to worry about the NCAA because I had nothing to do with" the school being penalized.
"We'll participate in the Metro Conference tournament and approach it like our NCAA," he said. "By no stretch of the imagination are we writing this season off."