This morning, the NCAA announced the eight-team field for the 2012 NCAA Division III Tournament, and I can honestly say I’m a little surprised with the outcome.
The five automatic qualifiers into the tournament were defending national champion Norwich (ECAC East), 2011 runner-up RIT (ECAC West), Gustavus Adolphus (MIAC), Wisconsin-River Falls (NCHA), and Middlebury (NESCAC). All five of those teams gained entry to the NCAA Tournament by virtue of winning their respective conference’s postseason tournament.
Then came the three Pool C selections. The first one was easy with Amherst, as the Lord Jeffs dominated everyone in the comparisons and own some impressive victories over Wis.-River Falls, Norwich, Middlebury, and Plattsburgh.
However, then it got complicated really quickly between Concordia (Minn.), Plattsburgh and Elmira, with all three of those teams battling for just two spots.
As I said on the Fan Forum earlier this week, there was no way Plattsburgh could statistically pass Elmira in the comparison should the Cardinals not win the ECAC West Tournament, which they did not, unless the Committee decided to rank Oswego or Potsdam, which I don’t believe they could end up doing, since neither of those teams won a game last week.
However, there is no way to truly know what the Eastern Committee did, since the the final regional rankings are not released to the public like the last three weeks were. The only way Plattsburgh gets a Pool C is if it jumps Elmira in the rankings, so somewhere in the process, they were moved ahead of Elmira and unless something changed, the numbers were not there to support it.
Now, do I think Elmira necessarily got screwed? Yes and no. Personally, I feel the fact that Plattsburgh made the ECAC West final was a little more weight-bearing, rather than Elmira losing in the play-in round for the second straight year. That fact at least makes it understandable as to why Plattsburgh could jump Elmira, especially with all of the criteria being so close.
The other factor in all of this is that Elmira lost the comparison with Concordia (Minn.), while Plattsburgh won it. That may have also factored into the decision to move the Cardinals ahead.
The other intriguing factor into this year’s selection process is that for the first time ever, we are going to have a flight in the first round of the D-III women’s tourney. When it comes to Division III sports, the NCAA has always strongly encouraged (and sometimes vetoed) brackets which create first round flight games when they can be avoided.
With a 5-3 split this year and no Adrian, a flight couldn’t be avoided if Concordia (Minn.) was allowed into the tournament. On the men’s side in previous years, sometimes at-large bids have been given to teams for specific regions to try and minimize flights during the course of the championship when comparisons between teams have been close.
This year though, the NCAA allowed it, which honestly came as surprise to me, considering their past precedents and history. I will say it is refreshing to the see the NCAA put a team into the tournament regardless of geography that by the numbers belonged in the tournament.
Now, plenty of people will probably point to the lack of the Western Region being able to beat the Eastern teams when it comes to the NCAA Tournament as a reason why the East should have got six teams in, and if the selection involved past history not including this season, they’d have a legitimate beef. However, that’s not part of the process and can’t be considered.
Moving on past Elmira being left out and having a first round flight for the first time, the bracket wasn’t surprising at all once we knew those two things.
Concordia was the lowest seed in the tournament and will fly to the No. 1 seed RIT. Gustavus Adolphus and Wis.-River Falls play each other because they are the only other schools within 500 miles each other in the tournament. Norwich gets a tough first round matchup with Amherst after the Lord Jeffs were one of just two teams to beat the Cadets this season. Finally, in the fourth matchup, Middlebury hosts Plattsburgh.
I’ll have a full preview of the quarterfinal round later this week for my column. Hope this helps some people understand what went down earlier today. To Elmira, I’m sorry, better luck next year, and to the rest of the eight teams left, good luck!