By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Mar 11, 2007 at 5:29 AM

While Marquette and Wisconsin are assured berths when the NCAA Tournament pairings are announced today, there are a lot of angry fans at a pair of Wisconsin universities wondering why they aren't dancing.

Nobody in their right mind is going to argue for Milwaukee and UW-Green Bay to be invited into the field of 65 tonight. But, if you're a fan of Division III basketball, being incensed these days is more than acceptable.

The Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference is made up of nine state universities which compete at the NCAA Division III level. There are no scholarships, but there is some pretty good basketball.

It's considered by many to be one of the most talented, most physical, and most competitive conferences in the nation and yet, it's also one of the most disrespected.

Normally, a team that is ranked ninth in the nation would be a lock for post-season play, but that's not the case for UW-Oshkosh, which finished the season with a 21-6 record. UW-La Crosse, which dropped the WIAC Tournament Championship to UW-Stevens Point, finished the year at 19-8, beat Oshkosh three times and ended up 16th in the final rankings.

Yet, the only WIAC team that got a bid to the NCAA Tournament was No. 25 Stevens Point, which claimed the league's automatic bid.

Still think the Division III tourney is unfair? Read on.

Only 59 teams get bids to the dance; 37 conference champions, four schools from conferences without an automatic qualifier and 18 at-large bids.

Teams in contention for an at-large, or Pool C, berth are judged by their performance within their region. So schools like those in the WIAC are actually penalized by beating up on each other during the regular season because of the NCAA's Quality of Wins Index.

Teams from other regions, which have run up their records playing inferior teams in inferior conferences to the WIAC, get the nod over teams ranked in the top 10 nationally because their leagues don't have similar competitive balance.

The system is incredibly flawed from the top down. Because there is little to no television exposure, properly selecting and seeding the 59 best teams in Division III basketball is nearly impossible. The formulas and rationale used for selection purposes make the BCS look logical.

Stevens Point, which has won two of the last three national championships, was eliminated on Friday night by Washington University, 78-66. The match up was akin to the 2004 NCAA Tournament, when Wisconsin - winner of the Big Ten Conference Tournament - was seeded sixth and had to play No. 2 Pitt in the second round.

Just as the Badgers were sent to Milwaukee for that game, Point was the host this time around but to have No. 1 and No. 8 this early in a tournament is ridiculous, which brings us to another flaw; regions.

The entire premise of setting up the brackets regionally is an insult to competitiveness. Many of the best teams in the county are forced to duke it out with each other in the early rounds, meaning the four best teams in the country may not make it to the Final Four. That probably can be forgiven, since the best teams in the nation don't even get invited to the post-season, anyway.

Whitworth head coach Jim Hayford echoed those sentiments in the Washington University student newspaper after his 11th-ranked Pirates dropped a second-round game to the Bears last week.

"The committee has to do what the rules tell them to do, so I don't fault the committee. But I do think that the way the NCAA picks their teams is a broken system and it needs to be addressed," Hayworth said. "The best teams across the country weren't playing basketball this week and they need to look at that."

Some coaches and fans have suggested a bias against Wisconsin schools, which are a unique lot within the Division III ranks. They are all public universities and several have enrollments of nearly 10,000 or more.

Legislation passed a few years ago put an end to redshirting (sitting out a year while maintaining eligibility) at the Division III level; a move made specifically with the WIAC in mind.

Many people think that the Wisconsin league should move it's teams up to the Division II level (where many teams could no doubt compete), but that would require serious budget concerns due to the necessity of scholarships.

One of those is Whitworth, who didn't hold back when he said in the same story that it's time for the WIAC to reevaluate itself.

"Someone needs to tell the Wisconsin schools ‘Look around the rest of Division III. Do you see anyone else like you?'" Hayford said. "You probably ought to go in the division that you should be in," said the sixth-year head coach. "The Wisconsin league looks a lot like the rest of the Division II looks like."

The NCAA as a whole has shown all the effectiveness of a government bureaucracy in the past, and Division III athletics get nowhere near the attention to detail the big boys get.

That's a shame, because here in Wisconsin, a lot of talented basketball players are stuck filling out their brackets this weekend when they should still be playing games.