Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A West Side Story

By Nathan Shoup, Sports Reporter

The relationship between Pacific Lutheran athletics and the National Selection Committee is anything but friendly.

The Northwest Conference champion in any sport receives an automatic bid to the national tournament. The national selection committee is then left to determine if the conference runner-up is worthy of receiving an at-large bid to the national tournament.

Since 2009, seven PLU teams have been in contention for a highly sought after at-large bid, finishing second or sharing a conference championship. This year’s volleyball team is the only team to receive a bid.

How it works

Division III national tournament participants are divided into three pools.

Pool A teams are teams that win their respective conference tournaments. Depending on the conference or sport, some conferences don’t have a postseason tournament, an example being NWC baseball. In cases such as these, the regular season conference champion is the automatic qualifier.

Pool B teams are the independent schools that the national selection committee determines to be worthy of a national tournament appearance. Champions of non-qualifying conferences also fit into Pool B.

Non-qualifying conferences are those that don’t have enough teams according to the NCAA to receive a Pool A bid. Non-qualifying conference champions are rare in the national tournament.

“Mostly it [Pool B] is just independents,” Pacific Lutheran Sports Information Director Nick Dawson said.

There are currently only five independent Division III universities in the country. This excludes Chapman University, which is currently transitioning from an independent to the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

Pool C teams include, but are not limited to, those that have finished second in their respective conference tournaments or conference regular season.

The number of teams competing in the national tournament and number of each type of bid vary by sport.

In the 2011 national baseball tournament, 55 teams participated. Pool A consisted of 38 teams, Pool B consisted of two teams and Pool C consisted of 15 teams.

In the 2011 national football tournament, 32 teams competed. Pool A consisted of 25 teams, Pool B consisted of one team and Pool C consisted of six teams.

All Division III universities are broken into eight regions: Central, Mid-Atlantic, Mideast, Midwest, New England, New York, South and West.

Each region has a selection committee made up sports officials: coaches, sports information directors and athletic directors, from the conferences within the region.

The selection committee submits final rankings to the national selection committee, which is made up of a member from each committee and a chairman.

The national selection committee uses the final rankings to help them decide who will be Pool B and Pool C teams in the national tournaments.

PLU teams that have been snubbed

As co-champions of the NWC, the PLU baseball team did not receive an at-large bid in 2009 despite finishing 31-9.

The Lutes traveled to George Fox to determine who would receive the Pool A bid from the NWC and lost 24-6.

“I think that had we lost that game by eight or fewer runs even we would have gotten in,” said infielder senior Corey Moore who was a first -year that season. “The fact that we lost by double digit runs probably kept the selection committee from putting us in.”

In 2010, the baseball team was once again in the running for a Pool C bid. Finishing the season 30-10 and ranked in the top 25 in the nation, the Lutes were left at home.

Leading the NWC the whole season, the Lutes took a one-game lead into the final series of the season. Linfield swept the three game series with the Lutes and claimed the Pool A bid.

Arguably the biggest snub in the past three years came in 2010 when the Lutes volleyball team finished in a second place tie in the NWC with a 19-7 record.

That year, the Lutes tied with the University of Puget Sound, whom they had beaten two out of the three times that season. UPS was given a Pool C bid. The Lutes were not.

The football team finished its 2010 campaign 8-1 their lone loss coming at the hands of NWC champion Linfield.

Trailing by one score in the fourth quarter, the Lutes muffed a punt in their own territory, which Linfield was able to recover. The Wildcats scored and put the game away on their ensuing drive.

“I think we were looked over because of where we are located,” said alumna Sten Koos, who was a senior First-Team All-NWC offensive tackle that year. “It was easier for the committee to put teams in the tournament that were closer together.”

Last season, the softball team finished second in the NWC with a 31-13 record including delivering one of only three loses to conference champion and eventual national champion Linfield.

The NWC did not offer an at-large bid to the Lutes.

“In numerous sports, since the NWC became a full Division III member in the fall of 1998, I can count multiples of teams, probably 15 plus teams that probably were considered for postseason play and I feel should have gotten in, but did not get in,” Dawson said.

Why the snubbery?

Money.

According to the 2011-12 NCAA financial statements, the Division III operating budget will total $25 million, which is 3.18 percent of the total NCAA budget.

Of the eight regions, the West Region is the only is located west of the Mississippi River.

Schools in a particular region vary by sport, but in baseball the West Region includes schools as far east as Louisiana and Minnesota.

The vast amount of geographic space covered by the West Region explains why PLU has been left out of several national tournaments.

“The problem for us when it comes to postseason play, it’s travel considerations,” said Dawson.

Dawson said the committee seemed more likely to choose a nearby team than spend tens of thousands of dollars to fly a Pacific Northwest team across the country.

Depending on what happens this weekend, the baseball team may find itself hoping for a Pool C bid. Fortunately for the Lutes, they would travel the easy three hours to McMinnville, Ore. as opposed to jumping on a plane.

Iowa and Texas are the furthest west first round destinations for softball this season. If the Lutes were unable to capture the Pool A bid last weekend, they would have been at the mercy of the selection committee despite being ranking No. 5 in the country most of the season. The committee would have needed to decide if it wanted to fly the entire PLU softball