Back in 2014, the two Texas conferences (ASC and SCAC) were absorbed into the West Region after existing in the South Region previously. This, obviously, weakened the South but greatly strengthened the West and brought the number of member schools in the region to a somewhat acceptable level. We’ve now had 5 seasons since this change under our spandex and I thought it was time for a little reflection. (“Little” in this context means “long and drawn out”.)
First off, I don’t actually wear spandex…a lot; but that’s not important. Let’s reflect all the way back to 2010 and keep in mind that I had to piece a lot of this data together so mistakes could be present. I wanted to look at the number of at-large bids assigned to the four conferences in our region and where the regionals were hosted as compared to the last 5 years. Why did I only go back 4 years instead of 5? No reason other than it was just a pain to accumulate the results and some of the school’s websites get shaky prior to 2011. The SCIAC, as far as I could tell, did not have an at-large bid to the tournament this year. Occidental was probably the best option that year going 25-8 but they stumbled in the conference tournament semifinal match after faltering a bit down the stretch. This is rather significant because the SCIAC would not be shutout of an at-large bid over the next 8 years. The SCAC had one at-large bid and the Northwest Conference also had one. The ASC, like the SCIAC, did not receive an at-large bid and not to spoil things, but this would be a reoccurring trend over the next 8 years. So, for 2010, the “West Region” teams were Cal Lutheran, Hardin-Simmons, Southwestern, Colorado College, Whitworth and Puget Sound. Half of these teams were flown to Emory. I know what you are thinking…the NCAA doesn’t allow teams to fly 3 time zones but the NCAA was so powerful back then that they actually rezoned Thousand Oaks, California into the Mountain Time Zone that weekend. Regardless, it happened. As far as the other three; Colorado College flew to Christopher Newport and the two Northwest teams flew to St. Thomas. This year (2010) would be the last year where no regional was played in Texas or California until this past season. In fact when researching this year, it was remarkable how similar it was to this past 2018 season with respect to the West Region. First observation, if our region only gets 2 at-large bids, we will not be hosting a regional.
Moving to 2011 and we see the West Regional hosted by Cal Lutheran and we see 4 at-large bids assigned to the “West Region” schools. (I’m putting “West Region” in quotes right now because the reorganization didn’t happen until 2014.) Two of the at-large bids went to the SCIAC with one each going to the SCAC and NWC. Again, the ASC was shutout. This 2011 regional only included the teams that would be placed in the West Region. So, with 2 at-large bids, the west is broken up and with 4 we are self-contained. This year, the traditional South Region teams played at Christopher Newport (Mid-Atlantic Region).
Moving to 2012 and again Cal Lutheran is hosting the regional. This time we have 5 at-large bids with the SCIAC getting 2 along with the SCAC. The NWC gets their one at-large bid and, say it with me, the ASC is shutout. (Side note, UT-Dallas actually had a pretty good team this year going 27-7 and beating some good teams but no bid came for the Comets.) With the 5 at-large bids we again get a self-contained regional and we also see Trinity being shipped out to the Christopher Newport Regional, which also had the traditional South Region teams.
Now to 2013 and the last year under the old organization and the “West Region” comes away with 6 at-large bids! This year the NWC gets shutout while the SCIAC, the SCAC and the NWC all receive 2 at-large bids each. These are going to be the only at-large bids the ASC will receive over these 9 years of data. Another strange event this year was UC Santa Cruz was awarded one of the two Pool B bids (as an independent) to the tournament. This gave us 5 Texas teams, 4 California teams, Colorado College and Pacific Lutheran. This was our glory year folks! It was basically Oprah handing out cars. “You get a bid and you get a bid and you get a bid!” With the 5 Texas schools the regional was hosted by Trinity and we saw both Colorado College and CMS flown to Emory. I know what you are thinking…but, wait, the NCAA says we don’t fly schools three time zones…sigh. What they really mean is that they won’t fly three time zones into the New York or New England Regions, which might upset their delicate little cocoon of failure. To top it off, Pacific Lutheran is flown out to Saint Paul that year, too.
That’s four years of data prior to the reorganization and frankly the result is a big bag of mixed nuts. We see two years where California hosts the regional, one year where Texas hosts and one year where we get the shaft. Knowing that the next 5 years has the regional in California and Texas twice with the region getting the shaft once, it kind of shows that there wasn’t much change to the host locations due to the reorganization.
Well, now we are in 2014 and it’s time I sit you all down so we can talk about the change. The change is normal. It happens to all of us. It happened to me. It even happened to grandma. Yeah…funny commercial but this reference probably won’t age well. This is the first year with the West Region setup as we know it today. This year the regional is hosted by Cal Lutheran and the region receives 4 at-large bids. So, again, we see that securing 4 bids will secure the hosting rights inside the region. This would be the last year for the NWC to receive an at-large bid and it was mainly due to Whitworth winning the conference tiebreaker over Pacific Lutheran. PLU was regionally ranked while Whitworth was not and remember the NWC does not play a conference tournament. This was also the year my beloved Southwestern Pirates were regionally ranked ahead of Colorado College at the end of the season but the NCAA overruled the RAC at the last minute and gave the bid to the Tigers. Don’t get me wrong, the Tigers deserved a bid, but the NCAA ran roughshod over the West RAC that was missing their Chair (who was no longer coaching) to eliminate another deserving bid. In the end, this little act formed the seeds from which this little blog was created. Regardless of my own personal demons back in 2014, the newly reorganized West Region showed that they were going to be a force to contend with moving forward.
The year is now 2015 and the West Region only gets 2 at-large bids so we most certainly will not be hosting the regional. But wait as this is the year UC Santa Cruz actually joined a conference that was in the process of folding but still had their automatic qualifier. They only played two matches in conference all year, winning the semifinal and championship match in their conference “tournament” thus securing the Pool A bid. The Slugs were 11-11 that year going into the NCAA Tournament and had lost to a number of schools that wouldn’t even be considered for the tournament. Particularly galling was their 3-set loss to La Verne who would be bypassed by the NCAA for an at-large bid after going 20-8 and 13-3 in the SCIAC. Honestly, what Santa Cruz did was give the West Region a taste of what it’s like in the larger regions where a team that frankly is not deserving wins a weak conference. The problem in the West is that we can’t just spill over a team into the neighboring region when this happens. In truth that year, something even stranger occurred. Instead of selecting La Verne as the West Region’s 8th team, the NCAA only selected 7 with Cal Lutheran and Colorado College receiving the only 2 at-large bids. Even with Santa Cruz in the mix, this was an incredibly strong bracket with a 31-2 UT-Dallas actually being the top seed. With that in mind, the NCAA decided to send 34-2 (and UAA champion) Washington-St. Louis to this bracket to be the new top seed. What a cluster that decision turned out to be and I have heard on good authority that it took WUSTL 2-days to reconstruct head coach Vanessa Walby’s head after it exploded during the bracket announcement. In the end, a really strange set of decisions this year but the end result was a championship for Cal Lutheran (the first since 2001 for the West). Again, the West Region was showing that it was already a force in the NCAA landscape.
The next year (2016) proved to be a little more straight-forward and would become a time that I will value as some of the greatest sports moments of my life. The SCIAC and SCAC would garner 2 at-large bids each with the ASC and NWC being shutout (as they will be in 2017 and 2018). With 3 Texas and 3 California schools getting bids, the hosting job went to the highest seed – UT Dallas. The NCAA did throw a bit of a curve ball into the mix by sending Cal Lutheran to St. Paul and driving Hendrix into this bracket. The end result was slightly reducing the difficulty of the bracket but Hendrix was a really good team at the time, too. The West Region came so close to getting 2 teams to the Elite 8 this year with Southwestern winning the regional but Cal Lutheran dropping a heartbreaker to Northwestern in 5-sets. Still, the West Region continued to show how much of a force it was.
Only three at-large bids in 2017 with the SCAC getting their 2 but the SCIAC only receiving one. The ASC deserved one this year but UMHB was snubbed by the selection committee and, of course, the NWC was also shutout. With only 2 California teams, the NCAA reworked the regional rankings to let Southwestern host this bracket. What’s noteworthy here is that with only 3 at-large bids, the West Regional was still hosted in the west. It was also slightly noteworthy, I guess, to mention that CMS did march through the regional and win the championship. This would give the west 2 championships in 3 years. Once again, the West Region shows what a dominate force they are to the NCAA.
That’s 4 years of reorganization for the West Region that included 2 national championships and proving time after time the depth and quality of the region to the NCAA. In response, the NCAA acted like a cat with kidney disease and the West Region being the carpet in the dark corner of the living room. With just 2 at-large bids (one each for the SCAC and SCIAC) in 2018 and both La Verne and UT Dallas being shunned the West Region teams were sent out to make tough regionals even tougher while preserving the 3 time zone rule that prevented the Texas teams (or even Colorado College) from flying to New England or New York. (Don’t think about that last statement. Don’t try to correct it. Don’t try to rationalize it. Trust me.) This would be the first time a West Region team did not make it to the Elite 8 since the reorganization and frankly shows how much the region still needs to fight together against the continued bias of the NCAA.
That was a lot of history and frankly stepping back and looking at the entire 9 years of data, I’m not sure the West Region is better or worse off than prior to the reorganization. My thoughts back in 2014 were that the west could be the toughest region when looking at the top 10 teams and that it would be a battle between Texas and California each year for regional hosting duties. I guess I got half of that right. I do think the reorganization has hurt the NWC. The at-large bids have not increased by they are now more focused within the West Region. The teams getting these bids are playing much tougher schedules than the NWC and that conference hasn’t changed to combat this trend. Basically, the top NWC teams need to win out their first week or two and hope the teams they played can carry their flag to the top of the regional rankings. Not a recipe for success and in no way demonstrates their abilities towards the end of the year when it really matters most. The lack of at-large bids by the ASC is just odd to me but it is pretty consistent before and after the reorganization. Part of the problem is the lack of travel by UMHB who tend to go no further than the South Region. With this strategy (with regards to an at-large bid) they basically have to beat a Berry or Emory and hope they can piggyback on to their success. There is also a lot of room for the ASC to get better as a whole, which would probably help the conference get those at-large bids the most. When looking at the SCAC and SCIAC, they reorganization really doesn’t seem to have impacted them much. I do think (currently) it’s all about Trinity/Southwestern/UTD/UMHB versus CMS/Cal Lu and what other teams step up in a given year. If the ASC can start getting one at-large bid a year it really forces the regional to Texas each year. Santa Cruz is really a wild card because if they can improve and start getting Pool B bids then they push the advantage back to California.
The one big change due to the reorganization, I believe, is the consolidation of a number of quality teams into a single regional. This typically means the West Region is the bracket of death and we are seeing the majority of the teams are AVCA ranked. We no longer are seeing the teams split between two or three regionals as was the case prior to 2014. Interestingly, the one advantage to this was that the bracket would typically be rated as the hardest and would draw the easiest bracket winner in the Elite 8. In 2017, this advantage was stripped due to the “Emory Rule” where the Elite 8 are reseeded giving another advantage to those quality teams that can breeze through their bracket. I’m not sure the Emory coach would have pushed so hard for this rule change without the reorganization because their brackets were typically tougher prior to 2014.
In the end, the West Region needed more teams and it made sense to add the Texas conferences to the region. I can’t fault the logic but going through this little history lesson has reminded me how the West Region needs strong leadership and how we can’t rely on the NCAA or the larger regions to act fairly. Past articles have shown how the West Region simply can’t be compared fairly through the selection criteria. This needs to be the drumbeat at the highest level while at the same time we need our quality teams to venture out to these larger regions and share some of our West Region love.