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Well done, Trojans, you crashed the party while you could.

You may have had the worst statistical season in University of Arkansas at Little Rock basketball history, but you sure brought the chandelier down at the Cajun Dome when you beat Louisiana-Lafayette in the last game of the regular season.

That must have been some crazy house party, because your landlord, the Sun Belt Conference, is making sure it never happens again.

The conference must not have liked seeing its first-place Ragin' Cajuns plummet 26 spots in the RPI rankings after losing to you, dropping them below 12 teams that eventually would earn at-large bids into March Madness.

If it weren't for you, the Cajuns may have gone dancing despite their 71-68 loss to Texas-Arlington in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament semifinals.

Of course, you knew that. It nearly happened to you back in 2015, when you dropped 14 RPI spots after a season-finale loss to Appalachian State. That magical March upset over Purdue may not have happened if you didn't win the Sun Belt Tournament title.

No, no. No more of that fun. Pod scheduling's the future -- just like the other pods: iPods, podcasting, heck, maybe even podracing (dibs on that beat).

Now, reader, let's take a look at this system: After the first 16 conference games of the 2019-2020 season, the Sun Belt will split its teams into four pods according to the standings -- Pod A (No. 1, No. 2, No. 3), Pod B (No. 4, No. 5, No. 6), Pod C (No. 7, No. 8, No. 9) and Pod D (No. 10, No. 11, No. 12) -- and the teams will play their podmates only for the remaining four regular-season games.

That should protect the top seeds from back-breaking upsets like the Trojans distributed and received recently.

"The appearance is that we're stuck in the status quo and we need to get out of it and do something that will give us a better chance of putting our best team in the NCAA Tournament," Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson said on Monday, after the change was announced at the conclusion of the Sun Belt presidents and chancellors meeting in Atlanta.

Keeping first-place Louisiana-Lafayette away from last-place UALR would have certainly increased its chances of going to the NCAA Tournament.

But you know what else would have helped? Louisiana-Lafayette not losing to UALR.

"Something that gets lost here is you have got to win your games," said Southland Conference Commissioner Tom Burnett, who is going into his second season as a member of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. "We're looking for answers for when we don't win our games.

"As a conference commissioner, I've been through this a number of years. We're looking for positives when we're losing our games. That's a big problem that some just can't overcome. If teams are going to lose games late, that's detrimental."

The Sun Belt will go even further in eliminating bad losses by implementing a double-bye conference tournament in 2020, which automatically places the top two seeds in the semifinals.

None of the major conferences in college basketball send their top seeds automatically to the semifinals, but that's kind of the point for the Sun Belt: Major conferences don't need their best teams to win the tournament because several of their teams will earn at-large bids. The best teams from mid-major conferences don't have the luxury of losing late in the season.

But that's largely due to the reputation the Sun Belt has made for itself recently. Its teams have won only two games in the NCAA Tournament's main bracket in the past nine seasons.

It hasn't always been that way. The Sun Belt sent two teams to the Big Dance in 2008, when No. 12-seeded Western Kentucky advanced to the Sweet 16. Two teams entered the Madness in 1993, when the No. 7 Hilltoppers also went to the Sweet 16. A conference-high four teams made the NCAA Tournament in 1986, and guess who (WKU) advanced to the second round as a No. 8 seed.

Sounds more like no program has filled in for the departure of Western Kentucky.

UALR Athletic Director Chasse Conque and Arkansas State University Athletic Director Terry Mohajir both voiced their support for the changes, which include the addition of two nonconference games against peer conferences.

That's really the only change the Sun Belt needed.

If the committee is assigning Sun Belt champions low seeds and it isn't selecting extra Sun Belt teams, the committee has formed an opinion about the Sun Belt. That opinion won't change if a Sun Belt team plays another Sun Belt team.

Increase the number of quality opponents at the beginning of the season. Don't worry about the bad ones at the end.

If the best team needs protection from upsets, how good is it really?

'Good noise'

Cedric Thomas didn't have to tell the high schoolers about the $2.5 million in renovations that will be used partially at the soon-to-be Simmons Bank Field at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

Thomas said they were asking him.

Over 200 youth players attended the first-year Golden Lions head coach's football camp last Sunday at War Memorial Stadium. Attendees came from Arkansas and neighboring states.

" 'How big is the screen?' 'We want to play on turf,' " said Thomas, who hosted the camp with nine other schools. "They'll commit on that alone. I talked to some of the parents, gave them the update if they wanted to stay in-state that we're doing good stuff and good things that they directly want to be a part of."

Thomas said he and his coaching staff handed out eight scholarship offers at the camp.

The changes continue at UAPB, and when Thomas left work Friday, he saw workers measuring the scoreboard for its renovation.

"I can just pull the blinds down in my office and I can still see it right there," Thomas said. "Hope they don't get too loud, but I guess that kind of noise is good noise."

Conway affiliate

BREAKING: The Kansas City Royals have added a new affiliate, the Class College long-season Conway Bears.

After selecting right-hander Tyler Gray in the seventh round, outfielder Hunter Strong in the 25th and catcher William Hancock in the 31st, the Royals have decided to just go ahead and agree to terms with the University of Central Arkansas.

Who knows? Maybe former UCA and Royals pitcher Wes Gardner will even throw out the first pitch.

Sports on 06/10/2018

Print Headline: Cutting cupcakes won't fatten Sun Belt

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