Thursday, May 19, 2011

Longhorns Get the Hook in NCAA 2011 Selection

The NCAA model is upon us, and while there are many things to discuss on that front, those items are for another article. The crux of today's discussion has to do with selection. Tuesday, the NCAA rowing selection committee decided that CRCA No. 16 ranked Texas was not worthy of a bid to attend the national championships this year, despite having defeated two of the teams that were selected (Wisconsin, Clemson), and having won two straight conference titles (Big 12, Conference USA) over the past three weeks, with their only loss of the year coming to Michigan State (invited). The fact is, Texas should have been a shoo-in to make NCAAs this year.

The Washington women were invited, as they have been for the last 15 years. But did anyone look at the schedule? While UW is certainly a talented team, the ranking system seems to take into account non-NCAA events. Below are the NCAA guidelines for selection:
In accordance with Bylaw 31.3, the following criteria will be used in selecting teams and individual boats:

• Eligibility and availability of student-athletes.
• End of Season championship results.
• Regional ranking.
• Late-season performance (defined as competition taking place within the three weekends prior to the selection date for the NCAA Championships).
• Head-to-head results.
• Results versus team [sic] already selected.
• Results versus common opponents.
• Results versus regionally ranked teams in own region.
• Results versus regionally ranked teams out of region. 
The selection committee can make use of any of the above in determining the list of invitees. This season, Texas covered all the bullet points. Outside of not losing a single race, the Longhorns did everything they could to earn a bid this year. UW, on the other hand, did very little in the way of covering the above points. The only ranked non-conference team that Washington raced all season was Wisconsin, to whom the Huskies lost in the Varsity 8 at San Diego Crew Classic. Washington won the 2V event in San Diego, but neglected to race their V4, instead opting to bring a Frosh 8. The UW Frosh won – good on them – but the Frosh 8 is not an NCAA event. The Huskies never traveled again until Pac-10s, where their Varsity 8 lost to Washington State, placing fifth in the final, and their 2V lost to Cal, Stanford and USC en route to a fourth place finish. So how are they ranked at No. 9 overall?

Looking at their season, two things become clear – first, the Huskies were banking on doing well at Pac-10s (which they did not), and second, that their ranking seems to have more to do with tradition than actual speed this season. Dartmouth did the same thing this year – limited schedule, with much of their prospects riding on EAWRC Sprints. The difference is, Dartmouth performed very well at Sprints, and allowed the strength-of-schedule of their opponents to stand for their own. 

During the selection show on Tuesday, the selection committee cited the UW win at Windermere Regatta as a reason for inviting the Huskies to NCAAs. This year the UW women invited Oklahoma (not ranked) and a composite crew (both 'varsity' and '2V' athletes – terms not used in the UK, but that's the idea) from Cambridge University to Windermere this year. Taking nothing away from those programs, is that really a win that should be included in NCAA selection?

Despite all this, the Huskies are likely one of the top 16 teams, and I'm not going to argue that they shouldn't be in Sacramento this year. UW has, and has always had, a great program, on both the men's and women's sides, and Bob Ernst is, without a doubt, a great coach. The point is, a tradition of success alone shouldn't guarantee them a top 10 ranking and an NCAA bid. Texas did everything right, and the selection committee would have done well to reward the Longhorns for making every effort to play by the rules in hopes of gaining an invite this season.

The 2011 NCAA Rowing Championships will feature some outstanding teams, and great match-ups this year, and we are looking forward to seeing the racing and results in just under two weeks' time.

Upcoming articles: NCAA and Rowing – Format and Function? and Championship Regattas: How Many is Too Many? as well as IRA v. Dad Vail Model – Exclusion v. Inclusion

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