JACKSONVILLE, Ala. (WIAT) — Despite losing in the semifinals of the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament, the Jacksonville State Gamecocks men’s basketball team secured their spot in the NCAA Tournament Tuesday.

The reasoning behind how JSU (21-10) got an invite to “The Big Dance” has more to do with Bellarmine University and the NCAA than the Gamecocks themselves.

After being crowned the regular-season champions of the A-Sun, JSU went into the conference tournament as the No. 1 seed and the Gamecocks coasted to a win in their quarterfinal matchup against Kennesaw State only to then lose to the next game to Jacksonville University.

Jacksonville headed to the championship game against the Bellarmine Knights, a team that less than two years ago was battling teams in the Division II ranks. While playing in front of 6,000-plus fans on their home court, the Knights pulled off the upset and won its first A-Sun Conference Championship.

But while the Knights won Tuesday night, the real winners were the JSU Gamecocks.

Mid-major conferences are only guaranteed one team to represent them in March Madness’ 68-team field. And if this was the 2025 tournament, the Gamecocks likely would not be permitted into the field. But thankfully for JSU, this is 2022 and a now highly controversial NCAA ruling that has been brought to light allows the team to continue its season.

Due to Bellarmine only being two years removed from D-II play, they are ineligible from partaking in both the NCAA Tournament and the NIT until 2025-26 season due to the rule. The NCAA created the decree back in 2011 to help the transitioning teams “operate successful, constructive programs at a D-I level,” according to a statement from the NCAA back in 2011.

While the rule was made in good faith to help smaller schools focus on competing at a higher level, Bellarmine and a few teams before them (i.e. Marrimack in 2020) have proven that there are exceptions to the rule.

“We deserve to hear our name on Selection Sunday…we put all the work in that other teams have, maybe even more,” Bellarmine’s CJ Fleming said after the A-Sun Championship.

Even with the grueling realization that the championship-winning season would not end in the school’s first NCAA Tournament berth, Bellarmine is keeping their head up and looking forward to having its pick from multiple postseason tournaments they can partake in.

“We’ve made it a point to control what we can control,” Bellarmine’s Juston Betz said. “As exciting as Selection Sunday is, as exciting as it would be to see our names up on the screen which we deserve, we’re going to control whatever comes next…as badly as we would love to be able to have the chance to play in the NCAA Tournament, we’re just gonna enjoy and take in the last moments we have together as a team.”

This will be the Gamecocks’ second trip to the NCAA Tournament. The last time JSU heard its name called on Selection Sunday was back in 2017 after winning the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament. The team would go on to lose to No. 2 seeded Louisville 78-63 in the second round.

You can find out where the Gamecocks end up in this year’s tournament this Sunday on CBS 42 starting at 5 p.m.