RBC Canadian Open

Oakdale Golf & Country Club

The Loop

Convention(al) thinking

January 25, 2007

__CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA.--__Say this about the current group of college coaches: they’re nothing if not passionate about their sport.

Through two days at the annual members convention of the Golf Coaches Association of America (GCAA), there have been few dull moments. Those in charge of the men’s programs at universities large and small have had spirited discussions on numerous topics. Heck, even the awards banquet Monday night left people talking (A word of advice to those who present GCAA Hall of Fame inductees in the future: you might want to avoid 45-minute-long speeches laced with raunchy jokes.)

Two realities have emerged amid the din of debate on several of the more pressing issues. The first is that consensus on any matter is non-existent. Consider Monday’s hot-button Division I issue: whether schools should be required to have a .500 winning percentage for selection into NCAA regionals. The measure was presented by the NCAA golf committee to the Championships Cabinet, which is scheduled to vote on it the first week of February, and comes on the heels of the decision to change the structure of the post-season beginning in 2007-08, selecting the remaining 53 teams of the 81 invited to regionals (after including 28 conference winners who automatically qualify) on an "at large" basis rather than guaranteeing a minimum number of schools from each area of the country.

Proponents of the "500 rule" argue that having a winning record in order to compete in the post-season, and thus have the opportunity to qualify for nationals, is a reasonable threshold, one required in football, basketball and most every other NCAA sport. Critics contend, though, that golf is different. A team that finishes 15th out of 15 teams at a top-tier tournament might actually be the 15th best team in the country, but its record will be 0-14, an unfair hole to dig out from in order to be eligible for regionals.

During the forum on the topic, Wake Forest coach Jerry Haas noted that his team is ranked in the top 25 but only has a 33-32-3 mark through the fall season. “If I’m 54-52 and going into the last event [of the spring], I’m going to withdraw,” he said, in order to be certain his squad could play in the post-season. “I’m going to make somebody mad, but I’ve got to look out for my team.”

As it stands now, if the 500 rule were in effect, several other programs—Georgia State, South Carolina, Texas Tech, Auburn to name a few—currently ranked in the top 50 also have records below the required winning percentage, creating a fair amount of squirming among coaches.

Teams can avoid the problem by scheduling differently, perhaps playing teams that they’re more likely to beat. However, by “weakening” the fields at events, college golf runs the risk of losing the sponsors who put up dollars to hold tournaments such as the Isleworth Collegiate in Orlando and the U.S. Collegiate outside Atlanta provided they know they’re getting the best field possible. “I don’t watch college basketball until the conference season begins because you’ve got a lot of schools just playing patsies to pad their record for the NCAA Championship,” said one ACC coach. “Same with football. Now, do we really want to bring that to golf?”

Even more disagreement arose Tuesday when the discussion moved to a proposal currently under review by the NCAA Management Council, No. 2006-87, that would allow schools the option of playing nine three-day tournaments as an alternative to the current 24 days of competition. Advanced by the SEC and ACC and set for a vote in April, the idea seems fairly inclusive; it allows schools to continue with the status quo or have an alternative that would get rid of tiresome 36-hole days. Coaches at northern schools, however, were only too quick to suggest the problems it might create in that weather and other circumstances frequently force them to host two-day events and they would not get to enjoy the alternative, while warm climate schools who take part would essentially get three more days of competition.

Making matters even more confusing is that the coaches from the SEC and ACC said that the proposal as written that’s now under consideration isn’t what the conference coaches signed off on, or what the GCAA board of directors had given their approval to originally, forcing many supporters to wonder whether they should push for the proposal to be pulled back.

“It’s crazy really,” said one northern coach after more than two hours of filibustering on the topic. “We look foolish because we’re now upset with something that we were the ones trying to get passed just six months ago.”

A third polarizing area of discussion involved recruiting and whether restrictions might be needed—i.e. limiting the number of days coaches can recruit or establishing dead periods—to help improve a process that has turned into a “watching contest,” according to Oklahoma State coach Mike McGraw, where elite junior golfers come to expect coaches to attend every one of their tournaments and follow them every round. Conversely, smaller schools argue they need all the time they can get to fairly evaluate the junior player who isn’t an AJGA All-American but will round out a team.

Ultimately, on all three topics coaches had to agree to disagree. This, however, helped to accentuate the second reality of the situation: nervousness about the future is high. Decisions made one way or another on any of these topics could potentially trigger a series of consequences no one can fully appreciate (or even envision) until they occur. Quick action in the short-term could lead to slow and painful consequences in the long run. What’s the old saying about the devil you know being better than the one you don’t? It just might apply here.

Truthfully I can see both sides of the debate on all three of issues the coaches are wrestling with, and appreciate the different points of view. When it comes down to which way they should go on the matter, I think it’s important to consider what Georgia coach Chris Haack offered during Tuesday’s discussions. Forget your personal self-interest, or that of your programs, and do what’s best for the student-athletes. That's probably the best way to let your passion for college golf be shown.