One of my soapboxes this summer has been the proposal to increase DIII regions from 8 to 10, which when based on geography meant that the larger northeast regions would be split up but in the process gain even more advantages. You can read what I had on this, here. Since that time, there was push back on the proposal and today comes a rather surprising announcement from the NCAA, which you can find here. I will go over the highlights below and some initial concerns but my mind is already spinning so expect some articles over the coming weeks on this.
In summary, the news release says that there was feedback from a number of sports, including volleyball, which raised the issue of competitive balance across the regions. Competitive balance was not taken into account in the original realignment proposal. The three key criteria used to drive the realignment were balancing the number of institutions across all regions, placing importance on geographic proximity and maintaining conference members within the same regions. Now, based on the “near-universal feedback” the NCAA “has reversed its initial stance”. The marching orders now are to consider the same three key criteria and well as maintaining competitive balance.
On the surface, I love the idea of making the regions more fair by evening up the numbers as well as evening up the talent. But, even I, self-confessed NCAA poo-poo-er, is struggling to see anyway this will work for one sport let alone keeping in mind that the regions have to be the same for ALL sports. I believe competitive balance will probably have to be handled by the selection committees, which for volleyball has been a struggle at times. Still, let me wrap my warped mind around this for a day or two and see what I come up with.
Also in the news release was maybe even a more interesting tidbit about automatic qualification requirements. (Honestly, you really should go read the NCAA release.) Heck let me just quote the darn thing here:
“The Championships Committee discussed a recommendation from the Conference Automatic Qualification Requirements Working Group. The recommendation calls for teams to schedule regular season contests against at least 70% of their conference members that sponsor a given sport to be eligible to earn the conference’s automatic berth into the NCAA championship.
The committee supported the notion of establishing a percentage threshold for automatic qualification but did not formally endorse what that threshold should be. The committee will solicit feedback from Division III conference commissioners, and then return to the subject at its meeting this fall. It may make a formal recommendation at that time.”
Notice it says 70% of “regular season contests” so it does NOT include conference tournaments. It appears there was some pushback on the exact threshold to use, as frankly that number is ridiculous, but we should expect some threshold in the future. Again, another article is needed to look at this more deeply, but until then…
Let’s assume we have an 8 team volleyball conference that has an Automatic Qualification (AQ) into the NCAA Tournament. They play each team once so they have 7 matches. By the 70% threshold, this team would only be allowed to play 3 more matches on the ENTIRE season! So, the conference plays each other twice. That’s 14 matches and now you get 6 out-of-conference matches to round out your season. See the problem?
Overall, I like the intent of this NCAA news release. The powers to be are thinking about competitive balance between the regions and they are thinking about changing up the AQ dynamic, which is a core underlying issue when it comes to selection and fielding the best teams in the NCAA Tournament. I actually came up with an AQ “solution” recently, which you can read here. It’s a little out there but it’s just nice to know others are also thinking about these issues. More to come!