November 13, 2011

Two-loss teams need not apply

Baldwin-Wallace and St. John Fisher are part of a group of two-loss teams that this year, can't even really be considered on the bubble, even though there's reason to believe they could beat some of the one-loss teams likely to be chosen for the playoffs. It's history.
B-W and SJF athletics photos

By Pat Coleman
D3sports.com

For years we have advocated in our playoff projection that an 8-2 team should get into the NCAA Tournament bracket. And the NCAA has, the past two years, gone the other direction, preferring to take a 1-loss team with a weak schedule rather than reward strong scheduling decisions coaches make.

So this year, hey, we get the message. No teams with two D-III losses get an at-large bid in our playoff projection.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t like it. Far from it. We just know better.

Here’s the typical argument for an 8-2 team, provided by one reader Sunday morning.

“Baldwin Wallace deserves a playoff birth, not some of these other weak teams.  I am sure Mount Union wants nothing to do with them being in their bracket.  Hopefully the NCAA doesn't make the same mistakes you guys make every year.”

Actually, the only mistake we’ve made, for people who read our projections every year, is to predict teams such as Baldwin-Wallace will get in. But there are seven teams with one Division III loss and six at-large spots in the NCAA playoffs. Over the past three years, the NCAA has shown no love to two-loss teams.

The last time the NCAA committee showed any acknowledgment that a team with two Division III losses could be a better playoff candidate than any one-loss team was 2007, when UW-Eau Claire got an at-large bid at 8-2. That year, the competition was Whitworth, which lost to one Division III opponent and a scholarship school as well. Whitworth beat Linfield that year and won the Northwest Conference. But since then, no dice.

And that’s wrong.

Any system that can’t recognize the merits of a two-loss team with a .567 SOS compared to a one-loss team with a .481 SOS is flawed. (That’s Case’s SOS when you factor in the Rochester loss, even lower than their .487 in-region.)

Thankfully, in football, we are not in danger of leaving out a team that is capable of winning the national championship, at least not right now. However, let’s not fool ourselves that we are getting the best six at-large teams into the field. We’re just getting the best six one-loss teams. Case can skate through the season playing nobody who is regionally ranked and be rewarded for it despite finishing 9-1, if last week’s North Region rankings are to be believed.

But if one of those six best at-large teams happens to play two other teams who are better, sorry. Apparently you need not apply.

So while we believe that there are two-loss teams who could beat the at-large teams likely to be selected, and our Top 25 poll will continue to say so, we know the deal. And although playoff contention is new and unfamiliar to some fan bases, here’s what’s not taken into account: the perceived strength of your conference, how your conference performed in the playoffs last year, or anything other than the official NCAA selection criteria.

Here’s how the two-loss candidates look, in the order they appear on our mock playoff bracket selection board:

Team W-L SOS Games vs. regionally ranked teams
Wheaton 8-2 .567 L @IWU, L @NCtrl
St. John Fisher 8-2 .566 L v.HOB, L @Sal
Baldwin-Wallace 8-2 .507 L @MTU
Randolph-Macon 8-2 .528 W v. HSC
St. Olaf 8-2 .526 L @UST
Montclair State 8-2 .517 W v. Cort, L v. Kean

In the framework of the committee, seemingly every one of these teams is behind every team with one regional loss. So if you're at St. Olaf, or Baldwin-Wallace, this is how far you are from a postseason bid. There are seven one-loss teams, then these two-loss teams.

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UW-Whitewater 16, at Mary Hardin-Baylor 15
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Final
at Mount Union 41, North Central (Ill.) 40
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