February 5, 2008

Conference and Team Rankings

A question from a reader:

What is the best way to find out the strength of a conference? I am being told that it may be better to play in a "top" Division II school vs. a weak Division I school; however, I am not sure the best way to figure out that type of info (conference strength). Thanks for your help! Whitney

There is a bunch of information about the relative strength of each NCAA Division I and Division II Volleyball team that can be found on the NCAA Women's Volleyball page (click here). Unfortunately, it does not present the conference strength of schedule stats, though they are available because we are provided these from our conference office - I just can't find them on the web site.

In the rating of a team, the strength of a conference plays a large, but not always accurate part. For instance, in every better conference, there is always a poor team or two, which has a respectable RPI because they compete in a top conference. Even though they are going 1-15 in league, the conference rating is so strong that those losses are "good" losses. In a real sense, the team is not as good as their ranking.

The flip side is also there - some teams that are one or two in the standings of an average ranked league, are actually very good teams, but the overall rating of the conference is low, so their individual ranking is pulled down. You can easily find this situation in many of the so-called "mid-major" conferences.

With Division II Volleyball, the Regions are more important than conference. To find the strength of a team, you would need to see how they are regionally ranked. On the link above, it lists the regional rankings for DII Volleyball, but not an RPI index. Review the Regional rankings, along with the Top 25 polls and this should provide a picture of the team and conference in general.

The premise of what Whitney has heard, that it may be better to play elite DII rather than low DI, is correct for a number of reasons. As I have written about in past posts, a number of low DI (and not so low DI) programs are trading on the title "Division I", instead of providing appropriate resources. I know for a fact, that a large number of DII programs, when compared to a large number of lower DI teams will provide better scholarship support, a larger budget for team travel and equipment, have larger attendance totals and better marketing programs, offer larger staff salaries and contracts, and provide an environment that lifts the team rather than marginalizing it.

Unfortunately, this difference can be many times attributed to Division I programs feeding the beast of football - which as a sport, has a large financial and emotional appetite that Athletic Departments must satisfy.

A suggestion when evaluating opportunities for your daughter - If she has the talent level that falls into the lower Division I/Upper Division II range, take a look at where the teams are finishing in their respective conferences, which are actively recruiting her. For instance, if State U is in last place in a Division I conference that you have never heard of, then they may not be better than State College which is a Division II Region leader, which has four teams from the conference also ranked in its NCAA region.

Just try and sort thru the RPI, conference finish and Regional rankings of the potential programs. By doing that and paying attention to what you see and what is told to you during an Official or Unofficial Visit, you should get a good feel about the schools. I congratulate you on not being 'fooled' by the Division I label - Take it all in; academics, location, staff quality, team ability and conference/regional standings!

Good luck!