Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
The June (2017) Report of the NCAA Division III Championship Committee details that they decided NOT to act on a rule change that would have limited the regional rankings to 10 schools. This would have impacted the Mid-Atlantic, New York and New England regions. The pertinent section is pasted here:
i. Women’s volleyball.
(1) Regional rankings – number of teams ranked. The committee did not act on a recommendation to rank 15-21 percent of the number of teams per sport region, with a maximum of 10 teams per region. The committee discussed the merits of the proposal, but expressed concern about allowing a sport-specific ranking policy. The current rankings protocol allows for 15 to 21 percent of teams per region to be ranked (no minimum or maximum). The committee agreed to review the rankings protocol during its next in-person meeting, including an analysis to show the impact of a maximum of 10 teams across all sports. The review will also include consideration of an appropriate minimum as well as the debate about the perceived benefits of ranking more versus fewer teams (e.g., publicity for more teams, larger pool of teams considered ranked for results versus ranked teams criterion, etc.).
I wanted to look at the last line of the above write-up, “…the perceived benefits of ranking more versus fewer teams”. I believe the current rule that allows the larger regions to rank more teams is a huge advantage come NCAA selection time as has been evident in the last two years with the 2016 selections of Susquehanna (Mid-Atlantic), Ramapo (New York) and Clark (New England) and the 2017 selections of Vassar (New York), Wellesley (New England) and Babson (New England). To highlight what I’m talking about I wanted to dive deeper into the selection of Babson, which I consider one of the more shocking at-large selections of 2017.
Based on the seeding of the Clarkson Regional, I guess you can say that Vassar was more shocking since they were seeded 5 while Babson was seeded 4 but I’m going to go on record as saying Babson was the most shocking. Babson was the number 6 team ranked by the New England RAC. Their criteria are listed here:
On the surface their resume isn’t too bad. Maybe not the gaudy win/loss record you want but good enough with a high SOS. Their ranked wins are above .500 and just based on these numbers you could say Babson is a strong bubble team. I would have concern over their 3 “bad losses” but 13 matches against ranked teams is a nice bullet point.
The problem I have with Babson is that despite their high SOS, they really didn’t play and beat anyone of consequence. The Babson SOS is a construction of teams bunkered in the New England region that feast on worse teams in the New England region. Babson’s best win was probably the #5 ranked New England team – Wellesley. Yeah, the same Wellesley team that probably shouldn’t have received an NCAA bid. With 7 ranked wins you would think there must be some gems in the other 6, right? Well, let me introduce you to Roger Williams (NE – 7) twice, Clark (NE-10), Endicott (NE-12) and Springfield (NE – unranked but 12th in the previous ranking). Their ranked losses are to MIT (NE-2), Tufts (NE-3), Wellesley (NE-5), Wheaton (NE-9), Middlebury (NE-11) and SUNY Geneseo (NY-11). Kind of underwhelming, wouldn’t you say? This doesn’t even account for their 3 losses to unranked teams! One of those teams was our very own La Verne, who couldn’t crack the top 8 in the West Regional. A region that failed to get their 7th ranked team (UMHB) in the tournament because, I guess, they couldn’t match up with Babson. (Wait, they could as I detail in a previous post.)
One of the reasons I believe a team like Babson gets a bid over more deserving teams (I haven’t even mentioned UW-Eau Claire and UW-Whitewater) is their artificial Ranked Wins criterion that is possible due to the rule that allows them to rank more teams than other regions. Since the RACs don’t seem to be inclined to dig deeper into these ranked teams, they go by the winning percentage (and maybe the quantity of teams played). Back to the rule change, if it was in play this year then Babson’s ranked wins would drop to 4-4 (0.500) and their unranked losses would jump from 3 to 5. Not much of a change but maybe enough to garner more push back from the other regions. In case you are wondering, Wellesley had a 7-4 ranked wins record, which would have changed to 3-4 under the rule change. Vassar had a 6-4 record that would have changed to 3-3. Puts a different spin on these teams, doesn’t it? (Note – In implementing the new rule, I simply discounted the ranked wins/losses that were against teams seeded 11th or 12th.)
Here’s the thing, if the RACs won’t (or are not allowed) to look at ranked wins more deeply than giving the larger regions more ranked teams will directly lead to inferior teams being gifted at-large bids. It turns DIII volleyball into 5-year old soccer with participation trophies awarded at the end. All you have to do is look at the last two years for the proof.
To finish this off, DIII volleyball is leaving at home quality teams that have beaten the elite; beaten teams like Wittenberg, Northwestern, Millikin and St. Thomas for teams that have beaten SUNY Geneseo, Springfield and Endicott. This particular rule is one of the causes as shown above. The inability of the RACs to make value judgments on ranked wins and losses is another issue. The inability to consider “bad losses” is another issue that I think would provide a clearer picture of a team’s resume come selection time. Reducing the maximum number of ranked teams down to 10 is a good start. Frankly, still having an uneven number of teams ranked across the regions will still be a problem as long as we have a criterion that uses this uneven data.