Monday, November 30, 2015

College | Washington volleyball dinged by tournament selection silliness

Huskies victimized by a flawed seeding system 
  • Fri | 5:00PM | Michigan St. vs. Arkansas St @ Alaska Airline Arena 
  • Fri | 7:30PM | Denver @ #1 Washington 

Computational neutrality? Or common sense? 

After the 2015 NCAA D1 Women's Volleyball tournament bracket was released last night, it seems the committee used the former to trump the latter. Consider: 

-Volleyblog Seattle file
photo by Leslie Hamann
  • Washington, deservedly ranked #1 in the AVCA coaches' poll was seeded #5 by the committee, and bracketed in the farthest east region (Lexington.) 
  • USC, which lost just this week to UCLA, dropped into a conference co-championship with Washington, yet was awarded the tournament's #1 overall seed and assigned to the westernmost regional (San Diego.) 
  • Nebraska, which had twice as many losses (4) as Washington, and did not win its conference, was ranked ahead (#4) of the Huskies. 
  • Wisconsin, winners of its last 12 in a row—including a 3-1 victory over Nebraska—is seeded #6, but must face Oregon in the very first round. The top 8 seeds usually get to play cupcakes (see Penn State each of the past 12 seasons), so the Oregon draw is a huge head-scratcher. 
  • The Pac-12's top three teams—Washington, USC and Stanford—are all on the same half of the bracket, making an all-Pac-12 final highly unlikely. Meanwhile, the top three teams from the Big Ten (Minnesota, Nebraska & Wisconsin), Big 12 (Texas, Kansas & Iowa St), ACC (Louisville, Florida St & North Carolina), and SEC (Texas A&M, Missouri & Kentucky) each have a chance to find some combination in the championship match. 
  • Colorado did not make the cut, despite finishing fifth in the Pac-12. Arizona State did make the cut, despite finishing eighth in the Pac-12, three full games behind Colorado. ASU lost 8 of its last 10 matches—including a loss to the Buffs—while CU won 5 of its last 6. 

So, how does this happen? 

The NCAA Committee focuses heavily on the RPI, a number that combines a team's winning percentage (50%) with its opponents' winning percentage (25%) and its opponents' opponents' winning percentage (25%). USC was rewarded for scheduling (and beating) North Carolina, BYU, Creighton and Kentucky. Washington was penalized for scheduling teams like Buffalo, Cal St Northridge (twice) and Maryland. 

Among the many problems with RPI is the fact that few big-time teams want to schedule Washington in nonconference play unless the Huskies travel east to their gym. This season, Wisconsin chickened out of the final three years of a four-year deal to play Washington and USC every year. Somehow Florida, which finished fourth in the SEC with 6 overall losses, including several to mediocre teams, has a higher RPI than Pac-12 champion Washington. Florida was rewarded with a #11 seed. 

The committee also focuses way too much on total losses, without considering when those losses occurred. Arizona State was a top-5 team until star hitter Macy Gardner was lost to injury for the season. ASU's selection over Colorado is an utter embarrassment, given the Sun Devils complete nosedive the past six weeks. That decision alone should tell the committee its system is terribly flawed. 

Make no mistake, coaches like Washington's Keegan Cook is not losing sleep over the committee's decisions. Top programs teach their athletes to worry only about those things under their control. 

Even so, sports' credibility relies heavily on the fans' perception of fairness. To many, the slavish application of numbers looks suspiciously lazy. We often hear that an alarming number of selection committee members see very few volleyball matches in person, and a significant number have less-than-impressive volleyball resumes. As flawed as it, too, can be, the AVCA coaches' rankings deserve a seat at the selection table—currently it is completely ignored. 

One way the committee could enhance its credibility is to take a step back once it applies all the numbers. If the Pac-12's top three teams are on the same half of the bracket, then move one of them. If seeing the Pac-12 co-champion lower than the Big Ten second place team means Washington and Nebraska are in the same regional for the zillionth time, then move one of them. And if the numbers tell you ASU is deserving and Colorado is not, then the numbers are lying, and human beings need to step in. 

  • For the second straight season, the Big 12 was given five slots. The committee does not consider conference tournament success, but if it did, the Big 12 would get a bit less love. Except for perpetual conference champion Texas, most of the other Big 12 entries have a history of early flameouts. Last season, for example, all but the Longhorns were gone by the second round. 
  • One team not in the tournament is Notre Dame. Under former UW head coach Jim McLaughlin, the Irish finished 14th in the ACC with a 2-18 record, both of its wins coming against last-place Clemson. McLaughlin's 25 overall defeats this season compare to just 15 losses over his final four seasons at UW, including 4 in postseason.  


  1. Lets get it done on the court and make a sham of their silly RPI!

  2. Actually, in past years the committee has relied VERY heavily on RPI, but this year it has abandoned it, presumably because this year the RPI is unfavorable to perennial committee favorites, like Penn State, Minnesota and Texas, and the SEC, and Big 10 and Big 12 coaches have long complained that the AVCA poll is "biased" towards west coast teams (who then routinely play vastly better than their seeds).

    You should be happy that the committee didn't follow the RPI, or the Huskies would be seeded 9th, their rank in the final RPI. Being able to fudge the seeds, and the minimum travel mantra, also allows the committee to have a "justification" in rewarding its favorites with 1st and 2nd round patsies, and decidedly unbalanced regionals rigged by over and under-seeding. For example, USC, Stanford, and maybe Kansas are the only decent teams in the San Diego regional, and Penn State, Minnesota and maybe Hawaii are the only serious teams in Des Moines. Meanwhile, there are a lot of traps in Lexington, and the Austin quarter bracket is a killing field.

    In truth, this is far from the worst bracket butchery I have seen in recent years, and as volleyball is perhaps the most political sport as far as committees and old hatreds goes, it probably will be worse next year.

    1. So, anonymous, do you have any recommendations that would move the "deciders" to a more creditable position? The Colorado oversight has got to be a huge embarrassment for the "deciders" in addition to your and Jack's points, but what about the poor fan who thinks that fairness still exists. I really don't believe the "deciders" actually care what we think, alas. Jack, who are the "deciders", do they have names and email addresses, do they report to someone that can effect change?

    2. Jim: One place to start, this interview with committee chair Jean Berger:

      Here's the current committee:

      Jean Berger
      Deputy Athletics Director/SWA
      University of Northern Iowa

      Corey Bray
      Associate Athletics Director
      University of Alabama at Birmingham

      Rick Cole
      Director of Athletics
      Iona College

      Carrie Coll
      Associate Commissioner
      Mountain West Conference

      Vanessa Fuchs
      Senior Associate Athletics Director/SWA
      Florida State University

      Debbie Garcia
      Senior Associate Athletics Director/SWA
      University of Texas at Arlington

      Tim Hall
      Director of Athletics
      University of Maryland, Baltimore County

      Jennifer McGhee
      Associate Commissioner
      Southland Conference

      David Mines
      Associate Athletics Director
      Auburn University

      Lisa Peterson
      Senior Associate Athletics Director/SWA
      University of Oregon

    3. Thanks for the url to listen to Jean Berger. Very interesting and she is obviously very earnest. She was also quite clear and specific that she felt comfortable with the team selections and locations. Unfortunately it did not lead one to understand how Colorado got left out when the three teams below them in the Pac-12 standings got selected, nor how there are no pac 12 teams in the Des Moines quadrant, plus all the points you mentioned, etc, alas. Thanks again for all your coverage Jack, I really appreciate it, makes the game much more interesting, i'm now looking forward to this weekend and heading to Lexington next weekend.

    4. I wish I had a good answer. The solution would be to give control of the committee to representatives of the conferences of teams that did well the year before, but AQ conferences would hate that.

      It's interesting, based on who the committee chair is, that UNI (RPI #45, 5th in MVC) was the fourth selection from the Missouri Valley Conference ( a feat the conference is boasting on its web site), because clearly they are a better team than Colorado and ASU (based on RPI, at least). And more deserving than Baylor (#42), Boise St. (#43) and Wyoming (#44) because ... they didn't have a chair on the committee?

      Here is the argument for leaving Colorado out (which I do not agree with): Colorado had a poor road record (because they travel more miles/hours than any other Pac-12 team) and no quality neutral site wins. But I feel certain that if you swap Colorado for SIU in the bracket, Colorado and not Louisville would be playing in the third round in Des Moines.

      Jim - If you seeded Arizona State or Oregon into that quarter, it means Penn State or Minnesota might not be able to waltz to the round of 8. Can't have that.

  3. I think we have something to prove re: Nebraska. I'm glad we may get the chance in the Regional, to get that unfinished business out of the way.

    1. FYI, BYU will play Nebraska again this year, ha ha.

  4. If you are a true champion you will win no matter where you play and whom you play against. In the previous 2 years, we were seeded well and play at favorite regions, which did not help to win the championship.

  5. Just saw the Pac-12 player of the year selections and I'm not feeling the love. We all knew Samantha was a shoe-in and well deserved, but Taylor Formico selected as Libero of the year over Cassie Strickland? Really? When not once was she selected player of the week! Am I wrong here or is there something else going on? After listening to the Jean Berger interview and her prattling on about USC and Minnesota....not once mentioning that we were AVCA #1 in the polls, or tied for Pac-12 winner. Help me out here Jack, because I'm not feeling the love. I hope the lady huskies know we love them. I just hope we can go all the way!

    1. This is a tough call, but I would also go with Taylor Formico, if not Amanda Benson. Without Formico, UCLA loses a lot of matches that they won. I'm not sure I would say that about UW.

  6. The PAC-12 honors are a bit confusing... Formico was selected as Libero of the Year, but Cassie was named to the All PAC-12 team. Formico was a honorable mention selection. Doesn't make much sense either.

  7. Formico is good, but Strickland has earned Libero of the year. And Keegan Cook has earned Coach of the year.

  8. I am not sure how Coach Cook got passed up. USC had a great season but what Coach Cook did in his first year as a head coach was even more impressive. And passing up on Cassie...WOW. She is the best.

  9. Agree with you but at least Jim McLaughlin knew the ramifications for selection Sunday when he scheduled the weaker non-conference opponents.

    What I can’t comprehend is the injustice done by Pac-12 head coaches to our best outside hitter, Courtney Schwan. She has effectively stepped into the huge shoes left behind by Krista Vansant, the National Player of the Year. In a more limited role (584 to 1326 TA), she has eerily similar stats (.319 to .320 A% and 2.51 to 2.59 Dig/Set) and leads the Huskies in K/s and Receiving% and is 2d in Dig/Set. If there is an MVP on the squad, she would be it.

    Of the ten OHs selected to the All-Pac-12 Team, none bests her in attack percentage. Even if credence is given to the need for spreading the wealth, both USC and Stanford got a second OH on the All-Pac-12 Team - Brittany Abercrombie and Brittany Howard. Courtney’s stats are arguably superior to both. She should have received All-Pac-12 honors. Yet, she wasn’t even selected for honor mention.

    Can you explain this travesty?

  10. I can explain the travesty about Cassie (wow), Courtney, and Keegan. Court and Cassie play Beach on wood. Keegan got to coach his team in the sand last spring, they look like they're playing grass half the time. Those 'slow middles' to Lianna are classic grass kills. Point is: Jealousy, maybe even butthurt, because the team got to train with the coach in the spring. And good ol' indoor volleyball snobbery about outdoor VB. Can't believe it's still happening. Maybe all those snobs should realize indoor volleyball for girls exploded . . . because of Walsh and May.


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