ORLANDO--From the no-news-is-good-news department, discussions during the first day of the Golf Coaches Association of America's national convention were rather pedestrian as chairman Darin Spease and three other members of the NCAA Division I men's golf committee spoke at the Doubletree Hotel outside Universal Studios, with the NCAA's Donnie Wagner joining from Indianapolis via video conference.
Spease, the senior associate director of athletics at Charlotte, reviewed most of the mechanics that will govern this year's NCAA expanded regionals (three sites to six) and revamped nationals (54 holes of stroke play with the top eight teams then competing head-to-head in match play). About the only matter that raised anything close to contention was the new Pace of Play system that will be in place for the postseason (rules officials will be using the check-point system employed by the USGA and AJGA).
Traditionalists disappointed in the format change being made at the national championship did have their voice heard when Pepperdine's John Geiberger expressed his concern about the move away from a 72-hole stroke-play competition to determine the team and individual champion, a sentiment that garnered applause from some attendees. The thing is, the match-play horse is out of the barn, at least for the foreseeable future. Talking to some of the D-I golf committee members, they believe they have to give the new format at least three to five years to play out, literally and figuratively, before even toying with the thought of returning to stroke play only. Anyone hoping sentiment might allow for a change of heart from the D-I committee is going to be disappointed.
Truthfully, the best the traditionalists can hope for would be that the committee considers having the schools play 72 holes of stroke play to determine the eight teams to go to match play rather than the 54 holes in place for 2009. At least that would allow the NCAA individual champion to be crowned after four rounds instead of the three that will now be used, which is the change that arguably has the largest number of coaches upset.
What sounded more likely to gain favor with the committee is the possibility of including 16 schools rather than eight in the match-play portion of the championship, particularly if things prove to be exciting this spring at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio.
Meanwhile, the most intriguing/realistic suggestion floated Monday afternoon was the idea of increasing the number of holes played at regionals from 54 to 72. Teams would play 36 holes the first day, than 18 the next two, thus keeping the event as a three-day competition and affecting costs only nominally (Point of order: any proposal to the NCAA that will cost money has a substantially harder road to travel).
Given that regionals now have only 75 players at each site, the extra round is more feasible from a logistical standpoint. Another reason to consider the idea is that considering how only five schools will advance from each regional to the NCAA Championship, having an extra round to identify the top teams would seem to make sense. Suffice it to say, the concept seemed to have the support of the coaches in attendance as a straw-poll vote showed a 47-25 tally in favor of expanding to 72 holes.