The National Collegiate Athletic Assn. recently answered the age-old question of the importance of national rankings.
It sent Cal State Northridge packing. Twice.
The Northridge soccer and women's volleyball teams spent most of the season ranked No. 1 in their respective Division II polls, but when it came time to select playoff sites for the Final Four tournaments, both squads had to head out of town and, in doing so, travel considerable distances.
The soccer team played in Tampa, Fla., two weeks ago. The volleyball team played in Omaha, Neb., last week.
A look at the field for both tournaments leads to the belief that geography--and the cost of air transportation--had a lot to do with the selection of the University of Tampa as host in soccer and the University of Nebraska-Omaha as host in volleyball.
In soccer, the other two teams were from Southern Connecticut and St. Louis. In volleyball, they were from Ferris State of Big Rapids, Mich., and Central-Missouri State.
A decision based on dollars?
The Division II committees that determine sites for regional and Final Four playoffs consider the cost of air fare a high priority before making a selection. The NCAA pays transportation costs for all teams involved. In soccer, it obviously was cheaper for one team to fly coast to coast rather than two. The same applies in volleyball--Northridge was the odd team out.
However, those were not the determining factors, according to the leaders of the committees that selected the sites.
Will Lotter, soccer coach at UC Davis and chairman of the Division II men's soccer advisory committee, said Northridge would have played host to the Final Four had its field been in better playing condition.
"We would have loved to put it at Northridge," Lotter said. "No other school in the country could have compared with Northridge as far as fan interest. If they had a good field, they would have had the game."
Northridge plays its soccer games at North Campus Stadium, which is also home to the university's football team. Toward the end of the season, heavy use and inclement weather had reduced the field's surface to a patchwork of sand, dirt and grass.
The Matadors played host to Seattle Pacific in the West regional final at North Campus Stadium on Nov. 21 and Lotter said he received several reports about the field's poor condition. He said the quality of a field's playing surface was the committee's top priority in determining the site of the final. The potential to draw large crowds, followed by team ranking, were secondary considerations.
"They have the best record in the country as far as being able to draw," Lotter said of Northridge, "and they were one of the best teams. With a better facility, they would have been a shoo-in."
Bob Hiegert, Northridge athletic director, said he had been told that the playing surface was a factor but not the deciding factor. He was of the opinion that the committee had found Tampa more cost effective because of the cost of air fare.
In submitting CSUN's bid to play host to the final, Hiegert had projected a crowd of more than 4,000 for the semifinal games, increasing to about 6,000 for the final if Northridge advanced. The crowd for Northridge's semifinal game against their hosts in Tampa drew 1,156. The final, against Southern Connecticut, drew 332.
Northridge had drawn almost 4,000 fans when it played host to the regionals on a night when several of the area's top high school football teams were involved in playoff games.
"I think the facility needs to be important, but I also think playing for a national championship in front of a big crowd is important," Hiegert said. "It was the last game for many of those players and it would have been nice to play it in front of the biggest support group possible. I felt bad for the kids who had to play for a championship with a crowd like that."
He said the field at North Campus could have been repaired in the two weeks between the regionals and finals.
In volleyball, Nebraska-Omaha was selected because of a projected profit of $12,000 in ticket sales during the two-day tournament. "That was considerably higher than anyone else," said Jane Meier, head of the Division II committee on the sport.
And schools must back their predictions. NCAA regulations stipulate that a school must guarantee 75% of its projected income.
Northridge, which drew crowds of 470 on the first day of the West regional and 253 for the championship, could not afford to guarantee such a large sum of money.
The NCAA is reportedly considering a rule change that would alternate Division II playoff sites and predetermine them a couple of years in advance. That method currently is used in Division I basketball and Division I-AA football finals.
Since the majority of Division II universities are from the Midwest and East, that might be Northridge's best chance to play host.