By Pat Coleman
Somewhere along the line we got off the track this year.
Last season, the committee blew us away by taking Ohio Northern over Illinois Wesleyan. Yes, we knew at the time ONU was a better team, but IWU was better according to the criteria.
Well, they took ONU anyway, leading us to attempt to determine where we'd gone wrong. We decided that the committee had made a stand against the bizarre criteria that make them select teams nationally based on results in-region, and attempted to increase the quality of their playoff field. Perhaps that's why, when questioned directly on the subject in last year's press conference, the committee representatives were vague.
It didn't last. In pairings announced here this afternoon, Ohio Northern out, UW-Eau Claire out, Washington U. out, while every single at-large team, whether Pool B or C, had no more than one Division III loss.
Regarding Whitworth, NCAA associate director of championships Wayne Burrow said, "we felt Whitworth deserved special attention for having lost only one ballgame overall."
Regarding Ohio Northern, Burrow said, "There were a tremendous number of teams in the C category on the board last night that had lost only to their conference champion. I would have to say the second out of region loss (was a factor)."
Well, the second loss by ONU last year was out of region as well (and out of Division III). I'm not sure Dayton, a non-scholarship I-AA school, was all that much better than UW-Stevens Point is.
Somebody had to fly to reach a third Texas team, and I like the way the committee dealt with this, giving Wittenberg a trip to Abilene, Texas, to see Hardin-Simmons in the first round and either sending the winner to Thomas More, or MacMurray to the winner.
"There was a lot of discussion last night regarding if there was going to be a need to move any teams," said Burrow. "What came up was that there were six traditional Northern teams that were picked, seven from the East, seven from the West and eight from the South."
He went on to explain that a matchup between Hardin-Simmons and Mary Hardin-Baylor was something the committee wanted to avoid, since they just played in Week 10. So Trinity was matched up with UMHB while Hardin-Simmons was shipped out of region.
Now to the big question — how to resolve the three-way tie in the Northwest Conference, when all three teams split against each other? This was the topic of a long discussion, and here's a glimpse:
"We had that triangle (the three-way tie) that we had to do something about, said Burrow, "so once we couldn't solve that we looked at other issues."
Those issues ending up involving removing the three-way tie scenario from the discussion altogether and concentrating on other issues. Those involved Linfield's out-of-Division III loss, a shutout at the hands of NAIA Southern Oregon, a team which Pacific Lutheran beat (and Pacific Lutheran also beat Linfield head-to-head). And as mentioned earlier, Whitworth had only one overall loss.
And Washington U. (8-2) finds that the last-second blocked Jonathan Feig field goal against Rhodes sinks their playoff hopes.
Burrow said "there was a lot of discussion regarding who teams have beat and who teams have lost to. They (Wash U) were very highly discussed. The committee felt that they couldn't make the commitment to Wash U. with the Pool B teams that were on the board."
That in comparison to the East region Pool B teams. It's purely wins and losses this time around.
"We had some strong Pool B schools in the East with some pretty outstanding records with RPI, Brockport, Ithaca to name a few," said Bill Mottola, the Division III football championship committee chair. "Their numbers held up when compared to regional wins, opponents' opponents wins. That was a very competitive pool. We had some regional problems but went through it step by step with the criteria that was established."
To the seedings: Mount Union, Bridgewater, Central and RPI got the first-round byes, while Widener, snubbed for a week off, got 5-3 Christopher Newport instead.
"We're a little disappointed," said Widener coach Bill Zwaan, who directed the Pioneers to the national semifinals in 2000. "I think after the season we put together and the fact that coaches across the country had us rated No. 2, I thought we had played ourselves into a bye, but obviously some people felt otherwise."
Nobody asked this question of the committee, so we don't really have an answer.
They broke the pairings up in every region but the South. In the North, No. 5 seed Wittenberg and No. 4 Augustana are too far away from each other (any trip longer than 400 miles requires the NCAA to pick up the tab for a flight, and they try to avoid that wherever possible) to play in the first round, so they are separated. Whitworth and Pacific Lutheran (Nos. 5 and 6) are matched up in the West.
And in the East, they broke up No. 4 Montclair State and No. 5 Brockport State because those teams have already played this year. So Montclair gets No. 6 Ithaca while No. 3 Rowan gets Brockport. This is really a minor change — Brockport and Ithaca proved they were pretty much even with their close head-to-head matchup this year.