Realignment – Impact on Regional Rankings

One of the more significant changes coming to the NCAA will be the proposed realignment of regions. For volleyball, this means (most likely) increasing from 8 regions to 10 and the adjustment of teams from the three larger regions (New England, New York and Mid-Atlantic). The AVCA currently uses 10 regions so we have a roadmap as to what the new NCAA regions may look like. You can find the 2018 AVCA Division III regions here.

At the conference level, there have been and will be some movements of teams (most voluntary and one involuntary), which will continue at least through 2021. This movement sort of muddies the water but I thought it might be interesting to see what a 2020 regional ranking might look like based on the 2018 results. I previously wrote an article that warned that this change with respect to volleyball will just give more power to the larger regions. That’s because with 3 regions becoming 5 they will now be able to regionally rank even more teams than they do today.

As a reminder, the NCAA’s stated goal with this realignment model is “to have roughly 40 teams in each region.” Other goals were “maintaining conference members in the same regions, placing an importance on geographic proximity in regional placement…”, and the AVCA roadmap accomplishes this about the best we could do on our own.

Before I get into the rankings, let’s examine at a high level what changes would happen if we use the AVCA roadmap. As far as I can tell, the Central, Midwest, South and West Regions would remain the same. With the exception of the South Region, each would consist of 4 conferences with a sprinkling of independents or UAA teams. (The UAA conference consists of teams that reside across many regions.) The South Region would keep its 3 regions, which on the surface seems strange, but you have to remember that the USA South Conference consists of 271 schools so it evens out. Actually, while the USA South is rather large, the South Region would be right around the NCAA goal of 40 teams. The Great Lakes Region ends up losing a conference to drop down to 4 with the move of the Presidents’ Athletic Conference (PAC) going to the Mid-Atlantic Region. Otherwise, the Great Lakes Region is set and as you’ll see later, this change won’t impact their regional rankings. The Mid-Atlantic Region basically splits into two regions with the Mid-Atlantic and the East Regions. The Mid-Atlantic Region, as we saw, picks up the PAC and retains three existing conferences (Allegheny, Centennial and Commonwealth) as well as the UAA conference school Carnegie Mellon. The new East Region gets five conferences from the current Mid-Atlantic in the Atlantic East, Capital, Colonial States, Freedom and Landmark. That leaves the New England and New York Region to share the new Northeast Region. The existing regions will drop down to 5 conferences each with the new Northeast Region also getting 5 conferences with three coming from the old New England Region and two coming from the old New York Region. The big news from the New England Region is that the NEWMAC (stays) and the NESCAC (goes) are being split up. This is big because the teams from these two conferences typically makeup the entire New England regional rankings (with apologies to JWU). The bulk of the “tougher” New York Region conferences are staying put with only the NJAC and Skyline moving to the new Northeast Region. NJAC has teams like Stockton (regionally ranked 5th) and Kean (unranked). Skyline’s best team from this past year was the Merchant Marines (unranked). With the dust settled, we can see that each region now has 4 or 5 conferences (except for the South Region).

I mentioned some teams moving between conferences and for the purpose of this exercise I moved Stevens into the Freedom Conference (East Region) and Eastern into the Commonwealth (Mid-Atlantic). I left the AACA member schools as independents but have the Atlantic East in the East Region. Whew. Okay, now let’s take a look at those regional rankings.

Central Region (4 At-Large Bids from 2018)

  1. Gustavus Adolphus
  2. WUSTL
  3. Saint Benedict
  4. Thomas (MN)
  5. Augsburg
  6. Bethel
  7. Wartburg
  8. Olaf

Great Lakes Region (2 bids)

  1. Calvin
  2. Wittenberg
  3. Thomas More
  4. Hope
  5. Ohio Northern
  6. DePauw
  7. Muskingum
  8. Otterbein

Mid-Atlantic Region (2 bids)

  1. Carnegie Mellon
  2. Franklin & Marshall
  3. Eastern
  4. Johns Hopkins
  5. McDaniel
  6. Stevenson
  7. TBD
  8. TBD

East Region (1 bid)

  1. Juniata
  2. Christopher Newport
  3. Marymount (VA)
  4. Mary Washington
  5. Stevens
  6. Susquehanna
  7. TBD
  8. TBD

Midwest Region (3 bids)

  1. Chicago
  2. UW-Eau Claire
  3. Illinois Wesleyan
  4. UW-Whitewater
  5. Aurora
  6. Carthage
  7. Concordia (WI)
  8. UW-Stevens Point

New England Region (2 bids)

  1. JWU (RI)
  2. Babson
  3. Wellesley
  4. Springfield
  5. MIT
  6. Endicott
  7. Coast Guard
  8. TBD

New York Region (1 bid)

  1. Ithaca
  2. RIT
  3. Vassar
  4. SUNY New Paltz
  5. Hunter
  6. Clarkson
  7. SUNY Geneseo
  8. Brockport

Northeast Region (1 bid)

  1. Bowdoin
  2. Wesleyan
  3. Stockton
  4. Amherst
  5. Tufts
  6. Middlebury
  7. TBD
  8. TBD

South Region (1 bid)

  1. Berry
  2. Emory
  3. Birmingham-Southern
  4. Washington & Lee
  5. Hendrix
  6. Sewanee
  7. Randolph-Macon
  8. Bridgewater (VA)

West Region (2 bids)

  1. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps
  2. Colorado College
  3. Mary Hardin-Baylor
  4. Trinity (TX)
  5. Cal Lutheran
  6. La Verne
  7. UT-Dallas
  8. Whittier

That’s a lot to process but let’s go through the obvious stuff first. The Central, Great Lakes, Midwest, South and West rankings are unchanged and we know what teams were selected this past NCAA Tournament. That’s not to say the same teams would be selected now that there are 10 regions mind you. The New York rankings are just condensed as the bulk of the ranked teams stayed in this region. The New England Region is also condensed (and a little weaker) with 5 teams coming out of the NEWMAC.

Now for the rest. The Mid-Atlantic rankings have gotten significantly weaker and is headlined by Carnegie Mellon. Now they were a fine team but shouldn’t receive a #1 regional  ranking. The East rankings look good as they took some of the stronger teams from the Mid-Atlantic. With four teams out of the NESCAC, the Northeast rankings are a bit thin. I originally wanted to go through the TBD teams but honestly the names just don’t matter for this exercise. Teams that had no business being regionally ranked before will now get rankings which will only improve the Ranked Win criterion for teams in those regions (Mid-Atlantic, East, New England and Northeast). Every team (other than Rochester) that was ranked higher than 8th, which currently benefits mainly the larger regions, will still be ranked but will now be given even higher rankings making them seem more legitimate. This is where the new realignment plan for volleyball takes a northeast bias and compounds it twice over.

The current 8 regions makes for a somewhat nice path into the 8 regionals needed for the NCAA Tournament. Assuming the NCAA doesn’t change the tournament format, 10 regions causes some problems. With 19 or 20 at-large bids, 10 regions means on average 2 at-large bids from each region. With 4 or 5 automatic qualifiers from each region, that means only 6 or 7 teams could come out of a region. Above, for each of the 10 regions, I listed the 2018 at-large bids given out. Do we really think 9 other regions would allow 4 at-large bids to come out of the Central as was done this past year? I’m thinking Augsburg would be a tough sell in the new alignment. The East Region would probably stay with their 1 bid because of the Pool B bid that went to Marymount. Carthage was always a tough sell to me out of the Midwest Region and I believe with the new alignment they probably don’t make it in. That’s at least one if not two extra bids going somewhere else and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them split up among the New England, New York and Northeast Regions. You have to remember how much better the northeast schools will do when it comes to the Ranked Wins criterion with this realignment change. A 4-10 ranked win record by Carthage with their best win being BSU just isn’t going to cut it against 10-4 records that will now be possible in the northeast.

Another interesting item is that with this realignment there will be even more power centered in the northeast so I can really see the outliers (South and West Regions) suffering. Can’t we all see these two regions being combined most years into a single regional with maybe 2 at-large bids between them? That would make 9 tournament teams between the two regions with a Colorado College or the NWC champion always flying someone else (but never a regional in the northeast). We got a glimpse of that this past year with the 8 regions so there is no reason to think that this won’t become the new normal.

If this all comes to pass, and there is no reason to think the non-northeast regions are powerful enough to stop it, then what next? Personally, I think it will demand that teams like Augsburg, Bethel, DePauw, Aurora, Carthage, BSU, Cal Lutheran, La Verne and UT-Dallas make trips into the northeast every year. When competing against weaker conferences/regions where the top teams in those regions can benefit in Record, SOS and Ranked Wins you have to highlight the Head-to-Head and Common Opponent criteria. You need matches against teams like Franklin & Marshall, Christopher Newport, Babson, Springfield, RIT and Wesleyan and then the RAC chairs need to hammer home those two criteria. One major problem is that I believe the selection committee values head-to-head and common opponent the least among the five criteria. I further believe common opponent is valued behind non selection criteria like RPI, record against the Top 50 or even the Top 100. A couple of years back on a volleyball forum a former RAC Chair from the northeast essentially dismissed common opponent as not really meaning anything. That makes perfect sense as that criterion over the years hasn’t helped the northeast teams. Heck, even with head-to-head remember that La Verne didn’t make the tournament despite a win against Franklin & Marshall this year. A new dawn is coming to our DIII landscape and for the non-northeast schools I fear that dawn will act more like a sunset.

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6 thoughts on “Realignment – Impact on Regional Rankings

  1. the rule for number of teams to rank will have to change. 80 is to many. I think I like just a straight 6 for all regions. 60 teams. Too few? the 15% rule gets you 6 in 7 of 10 regions with Northeast(7), NE(8), and NY(8). The flat 6 should work, and chips away at the Northeast advantage..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I never like getting less information which ranking 6 teams would accomplish. With 10 smaller regions, the rankings shouldn’t be that tough/time-consuming as they often are with the larger regions.

      As to chipping away at the NE advantage, I don’t think it’s possible. If you went with 6 teams per region, you would be hiding 10 teams from the existing 5 smaller regions and only 4 from the 3 larger regions. So, still more teams to regional rank and gain credit for by playing in the NE.

      Like

  2. I agree less data in general is not good.True the ratio is going to get worse no matter. The current 40/34 goes to 40/40(8 per) or 30/30 (6 per). Without looking at the numbers it seems like the less matches that qualify the better that is for the non northeast regions. No good answer.
    I am going to do a VT post today to try and get some ideas flowing.

    Liked by 1 person

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