One interesting item (at least to me) that I’ve touched on in the past is that the largest region in DIII volleyball (New England) has never won an NCAA championship. I usually bring this up when wondering about the fairness of the at-large process where the larger regions gain an advantage simply because of their size. These advantages manifest themselves in a number of ways but the core reason for them is that they have a number of schools densely populated in the same area. These advantages are compounded because the three largest regions are all in the same area of the United States. I understand that those are the cards on the table but the inability of the NCAA selection committee to compensate for these advantages in the past has been, well, frustrating. As I went through my summer project last year, which I didn’t finish but I assure you I will this year, I kept getting annoyed on how teams from the smaller regions kept making an appearance in the Final 4. As a reminder, my summer project was to create an NCAA bracket for every tournament since 1981. (Note – Although I just said I would finish this project this year, I didn’t mean it. I mean I’ll try but it’s a lot of work and you always have to remember I’m lazy at my core.)
As I contemplated returning to my summer project, I decided something easier would be to record all of the Final 4 teams and note which region they currently represent. In some cases, we have teams that no longer play in DIII so I credited the region they would be in today if they still played in our division. I then awarded a purely arbitrary set of points (5 for winning, 3 for finishing second and 1 point to each semi-final team) to reward these regions with a goal to see which region has done the best over the last 39 years. I put all of this in a table below but one thing you have to remember, and this circles back to one of the advantages we see with the larger regions, is that the larger regions are guaranteed to always send at least one representative to the Elite 8 from their region. This is because there is always a regional that consists of teams from entirely their region. In fairness, the format of the tournament has changed over the years but in recent years this has been the case. (The concept of the regional final was introduced in 2006 for DIII volleyball.)
Here are the point totals:
The West was second in the number of championships and first in runner-up finishes. They were also helped by a strong start back in the 80s with powerhouse teams like UC San Diego and La Verne. The Central finished first in championships thanks to Washington-St. Louis and Central (Iowa) so they also had a strong showing. There is a bit of a drop-off to the next three regions and then another drop-off, which is where we find the South (which for the most part is just Emory). The last two regions are two of three biggest and neither were able to crack double-digits.
The New York Region has zero championships and just one second place finish. Coupled with 6 semi-final teams and you get your 9 points. The New England Region also has no championships with just one second place finish but only 3 semi-final teams. Again, you have to remember that these two regions often have teams in multiple regionals and that includes a regional that consists of only their teams. It’s really hard for them to be the last two teams in this list.
For the most part none of this really means anything, I guess. Past performance does not guarantee future success or whatever my financial advisor says to me when I ask how my money is doing in his latest Ponzi scheme. On the flip side, this is the data we have over the life of the DIII NCAA Championship so is it wise to ignore it? What we’ve seen over the last decade plus is that the New England teams really don’t struggle to get at-large bids. There have been some really strange selections in the past but for the most part their selection criteria numbers look good. Again, this sort of circles back to the selection advantages they get for being a large region. I guess my question is should we question every New England at-large bid in the future based on these numbers? Not to pick on New England, but we would also have to put the New York Region in this boat, too.
I’m certainly not saying that the West should get more at-large teams because UC San Diego dominated the sport in the 80s. That would be silly. Well, I mean is it silly? Yes, dangit, it’s silly. What I am saying is that most efficiently run companies use metrics to measure their performance and then learn from those results and CHANGE their process based on what they find. Number of Final 4 teams from a region is a metric that could be used to filter back into the selection process. When looking at those final few at-large eligible teams, do we go strictly on an unfair list of criteria or do we open it up and consider how our past selections have done? Pretty radical thinking that is going to be way outside the NCAA’s limited box, but I can hope. What may be more in their box is to maybe apply some of these lessons to the regionals and the Elite 8 re-seeding that now goes on. I know we have travel (financial) restrictions but is it fair that we always have a pure New England regional? In the past few years we have either not had a South Regional or a West Regional. How about we always make sure a top team from those regions fly into the New England and New York regionals. They have to fly somewhere and we can always drive those local teams to other regionals. You see they get this HUGE advantage for being in a drivable distance to so many other schools during the season but for some reason we don’t want to use this same advantage to make their regionals more fair? Once these regions start beating these interlopers and doing some damage in the Elite 8, we can change things up.
One interesting note from my research is that we’ve only had one championship that featured two teams from the same region. It was 1982 when La Verne beat UC San Diego in the final. Having two teams from the same region isn’t that uncommon even today. The Great Lakes had two teams in the 2017 Final 4 and the Central had two teams in the 2016 Final 4.