A number of you know my sordid past when it comes to the NCAA and DIII volleyball selection. It is part of the reason (albeit a small one) I wanted to create this blog. It is definitely the reason I do my NCAA selection case studies and critically examine the choices the NCAA makes. It is also the reason why my heart breaks each year (as it did in 2014) for Berry (2016), the WIAC (last two years) and UMHB (2017). Well, this past week we had another NCAA selection in volleyball and another curious choice.
I don’t follow DI men’s volleyball very much and I certainly can’t comment on the selection criteria used by their committee, but they had the difficult job of selecting two at-large teams to their tournament. UCLA received one of those bids and is in fact the host for the tournament this year. The second (and last) at-large team came down to Hawaii and UC Irvine. What is interesting about this selection is that UC Irvine had a number of statistical arguments that could be made for them and obviously were enough for them to be the ultimate selection. On the other hand, Hawaii had the top Strength of Schedule (SOS) and the better RPI (of which SOS is a part) in addition to a number of good statistical arguments in their favor. The bullet point that caught my eye was that they also beat UC Irvine head to head twice while losing once. The most recent victory occurred a few days prior to selection in the Big West semi-final match where Hawaii won 3 sets to 1 on a neutral court.
It is again interesting to me that head-to-head results, especially ones that occur so close to selection, don’t carry more weight than other criteria. The other criteria/statistics are there to help the committee determine who the better team is. I don’t know what can be offered up in a statistic, however, that could outweigh a head-to-head victory on a neutral court days before the selection. I mean there is a reason we play the matches. They are there to determine who the better team is. They are not played so we can get a bigger sample size for our statistics that will help us determine the better team. It appears, from the outside, that this is what was done in the men’s volleyball field this year and it’s something that seems to occur each year in our wonderful little world, as well.
Now that can’t be the end of the story, right? Nah…as I want to leave you with this little gem of a quote (via Twitter) from the coach of the Hawaii men’s volleyball team (Dave Shoji), “NCAA selection biased against Hawaii. IMO, its (sic) financial, Irvine drives to UCLA!” Whoa, where have we heard the argument that finances play a role in the selection of teams for the NCAA tournament before? Now I’ve been talked off this ledge over the past 5-years but hearing it from such a respected coach gets me on that ledge again. The bottom line is that the NCAA doesn’t have concrete criteria WITH PRIORITIES that can lock them into a selection if you know how to do the math. They leave a lot of wiggle room within their statistics and criteria to overcompensate for pesky little things like head-to-head victories. With regards to Hawaii and UC Irvine, I’ll paraphrase a quote a coach told me back in 2014, “UC Irvine deserved to be selected, but if they are selected than Hawaii should have been selected before them.”