Monday, November 7, 2011

The NCAA Really Needs to Reconsider Division III Basketball’s Regional Criteria

I get angry at the NCAA’s regional criteria approximately 17 times per calendar year. They just don’t make complete sense as they relate to the Calvin Knights. Coach Vande Streek previously alluded to the NCAA applying pressure on Calvin to schedule more in-region Division III games (there’s also strong speculation out there that a portion of the reason that Calvin didn’t get selected to a Pool C bid to the NCAA tournament in 2009 and 2010 was because the NCAA wanted to “send a message” to get Calvin to schedule more of these games).

The problem is, however, that the NCAA isn’t doing the Knights any favors when it comes to the scheduling of said games.

There are three ways that a non-conference basketball game can be considered to be “in-region” (all conference games are always defined to be in-region):

  • Games played against teams in the same defined geographic region (the Great Lakes for Calvin)
  • Games played against teams in the same administrative region (Calvin is in Region 3: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia)
  • Games played against schools located within 200 miles of your school (driving, not as the crow flies)

This is probably all well and good for over 90% of the country, but it’s definitely a problem for Calvin. These criteria push the Knights to the south and east to find regional games, but this direction isn’t necessarily where the closest schools are.

Let’s take a look at the 25 closest non-conference Division III schools. Four of them are in-region via Great Lakes Region status, five of them are in-region due to being in Administrative Region Three, five are in-region due to being within 200 miles, and 11 (44%) are not considered to be in-region at all. How is Calvin supposed to consistently schedule in-region games if over 40% of their closest non-conference competitors are not counted? And this is a ratio that holds going down the list. 21 of the closest 50 (42%) Division III schools are “out of region” (out to 350 miles), 32 out of the closest 75 (43%) are not in-region (out to 415 miles), and, going even further, 46 of the closest 100 (46%) are “out-of-region” (we’re out to 600 miles now).

The “regional focus” of Division III is clearly broken in this case. Is the NCAA expecting that the Knights sacrifice the intent of the in-region rule (playing schools like Wheaton, Carthage, Benedictine, Lake Forest) in order to satisfy the letter of the law? That would be nonsense. The NCAA needs to adapt the rules so that all logical games for all teams are counted.

The simplest adaption to the rules would be declaring all games against teams from contiguous states to be in-region. For Calvin (and the rest of the Michigan schools), this would mean that all games against teams from Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota (yes, they all share a legal border with Michigan) would be counted as in-region (in addition to all Indiana and Ohio games which are already counted). This sort of rule is already applied in Division II, so it wouldn’t be something earth shattering for the NCAA to implement.

There’s a fear that extending the regional reach too far would disrupt the true intent of the regional focus, but that shouldn’t be a fear in this specific case. Calvin currently has 88 possible (non-conference) in-region opponents with an average distance of 508 miles. Adding a contiguous states rule would add 58 teams to that list with an average distance of 440 miles. For Calvin, expanding the criteria would actually decrease the average distance that they would have to travel for a regional game (from 508 to 481).

Calvin would still need to do a better job of scheduling in-region games even if this rule was implemented. In most years, they’d gain 2-3 regional games per year if this rule was adapted (giving them between 18 and 20), but most schools are scheduling 22 in-region games or more. Calvin should heed the advice of the NCAA and schedule more regional games, but the NCAA needs to meet Calvin in the middle on this one.

Some other interesting facts
  • The closest non-conference Great Lakes team is Heidelberg (230 miles). There are five teams that do not count as in-region that are closer (North Central (Ill.), Wheaton, Benedictine, Lake Forest, and Aurora).
  • There are 30 non-conference teams within 300 miles. Seven belong to the Great Lakes Region, one belongs to the West Region, and 22 belong to the Midwest Region.
  • There are 34 non-MIAA Great Lakes teams with an average distance of 357 miles from Calvin. The closest 34 Midwest Region teams are an average distance of only 265 miles. Only 10 of these 34 Midwest teams count as in-region for Calvin.
  • The current system allows 34 schools that are farther than 600 miles to be counted as in-region. Adding a contiguous states rule would only bring in 12 more of these potential matchups.
  • There are 10 schools between 200 and 300 miles that count as in-region for the Knights (average distance of 269 miles). There are also 13 that don’t within that same distance (average distance in this group is only 250 miles)

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