Majors, Mid-Majors, & Low-Majors: Defining College Basketball Conferences

Let’s set this straight once and for all. There are 3 levels of D1 college basketball conferences: Majors (aka High-Majors), Mid-Majors, and Low-Majors.

Many people think there are only 2 designations (majors and mid-majors) and that all non Power 6 conferences are mid-majors. Those people are wrong. This is just like a fast food place offering medium, large, or extra-large drinks. We all know that is a lie and the sizes are: small, medium, and large no matter how big their cups are.

So, let’s make this real simple and settle this. We will use average number of NCAA Tournament bids per year as the defining metric as that is easily quantifiable and well known. There are far more scientific metrics we can use but the fact of the matter is that the college basketball world defines conferences by the number of March Madness bids they are able to earn in a given year. See the definitions and conferences below.

Majors – Numerous Bid Conferences

Definition: Conferences that send 4 or more teams to the NCAA Tournament per year on average (evaluated within a 5 year period). I settled on 4 bids as the cut off as this is double the mid-major requirement. This means generally that a conference had at least 4 teams within the top 44 in the country in that 5 year timespan.

Qualifying Conferences: B1G, SEC, ACC, Big 12, Pac 12, Big East, AAC.*

Mid-Majors – Multi Bid Conferences

Definition: Conferences that send between 2-3 teams to the NCAA Tournament per year on average (evaluated within a 5 year period). This means generally that a conference has 2 or 3 teams within the top 44 (depending on seeding) in that 5 year timespan though it is very possible that these conferences have an auto-qualifier (AQ) that pulled an upset.

Qualifying Conferences: A10, MWC, WCC, MVC.*

Low-Majors – Single Bid Conferences

Definition: Conferences that send only 1 team to the NCAA Tournament per year on average (evaluated within a 5 year period). These are usually AQ teams only.

Qualifying Conferences: All others.

Notes

  • A team can be very good, or elite even, and play in a mid-major or low-major conference (Gonzaga for example in the WCC). This is a conference wide designation and does not have a bearing on any individual team in that conference.
  • A conference can raise or lower its status with performance or by schools joining/leaving the conference.
  • I chose to evaluate this in 5 year time periods as that is the length of time in which you would expect a full recruiting class to process all the way through to graduation (factoring in red-shirts, medical issues, etc.).
  • *The conference size rule* – I am equalizing conferences of varying size by seeing how many bids would be expected if the conference had 16 teams. To do this, I multiply their average tournament bids by 16/their # of conference members. I’m using 16 as the cutoff here as the new SEC will have 16 teams so that seems like a good limit for conference size (the old Big East had 15 basketball schools fwiw). If we move to super conferences in the future we will have to adjust this formula.
  • The AAC and all of the mid-majors aside from the A10 (which has 14 teams) would not have qualified for their current designations without the 16 team conference multiplier but it doesn’t seem fair to penalize smaller conferences and to reward large conferences with a hard line. See the below sheet for the last 5 years for applicable conferences.

Conference2021
Bids
2019
Bids
2018
Bids
2017
Bids
2016
Bids
Avg # of Bids# of TeamsMultiplierExpected Bids in a
16 Team Conference
AAC243243111.454.35
A10223332.6141.142.96
WCC221211.6101.62.56
MWC222111.6111.452.32
MVC211121.4111.452.03
There was no NCAAT in 2020, as we all know 🙁