December 10, 2007

NCAA Division I Volleyball Strength of Schedule

Strength of Schedule - those three words generate many talking heads commentaries. This is one topic where volleyball enjoys the same microscopic examination from its experts as the other NCAA sports. If you listened to any of the college football end of season prognosticators, it was all about Strength of Schedule for the BCS title game.

With Nebraska's untimely exit (nice when your program has reached a level of accomplishment that an Elite 8 loss is grounds for scrutiny!) from the NCAA Tournament, the volleyfans are quick to point out their Strength of Schedule being weak. This criticism seems to be directed at Coach Cook's hesitancy to schedule non-league away matches that are challenging.

In year's past, I had heard the same argument being made in regards to Hawaii, but not with criticism of Coach Shoji, but rather about the Western Athletic Conference and how the weak league did not prepare the Rainbow Wahine (went old school there) for the NCAA tournament.

On the flip side, there are the schools such as UCLA, which at times seem to have a masochistic approach to building their non-league schedule.

The bottom line is strength of schedule does not mean anything this late in the year - it really doesn't. Each coach is going to schedule according to their philosophy of what their team needs and what the program goals are. I have sat through too many conference coach's meetings where the wanna be NCAA tournament programs were berating those teams with less ability for not scheduling tough enough because of the perceived negative impact upon their team's NCAA tournament opportunities. Then the next year, the conference comes back and says to schedule anyone you want, just win every game. Through all of this arrogance and manipulation, there was no change in the number of teams that entered the tournament from the conference. If you are good and win a bunch of matches, then do very well in your conference tournament, you have a shot of getting into the Show.

NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball is so geared toward the programs that reside in the Power Conferences that any scheduling preferences have zero impact upon the rankings. When it comes down to the NCAA tournament, the committee is by and large looking at what schools finished in what position within the Big 3 (Pac 10, Big 10, Big 12). While they may take note of a conference being a bit weaker some years, like the Big 10 this season, they are not going to jet up Texas State over Minnesota.

Nebraska can run the table in the Big 12 and then schedule Tumbleweed State (that is in west Texas by the way) to wrap up the season and the NCAA committee will provide them a #1 seed. Tulane can schedule itself a Top 5 non-league strength of schedule, have a winning record for these matches, and still not receive a bid unless it wins the C-USA tournament. St. John's was awarded a top 16 seed (which is all the NCAA sees fit to seed the tournament - why is there not an outcry from our coaches union? The WBCA would be raising holy heck about such disrespect) after posting an unreal 30+ wins, but they are also a member of the Big East - the Big East has a bit more pull with the boss man than does the Sunbelt.

My only issue with an extremely weak strength of schedule is when a Top 75 RPI team schedules in the 200's and only plays the starters. Believe me, I have never been accused of scheduling too tough, but I use the easy matches to get playing time for kids that are going to be riding the bench for a majority of the season. I know as a high school freshman, I would really look forward to those varsity games where we were going to crunch a team because I could get some playing time in the match!

Those coaches that have amassed more wins than my mother has frequent flier miles know what they are doing. If they play a perceived weaker schedule, they may be trying to cover some injury situation, they may be breaking in a young setter or they just may be sick of travelling and they can't get other top flight teams to jump on a plane to come to someplace not too exciting.

With the occasional glorious exception, it is all about what conference you play in - nothing more.

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