__By Ryan Herrington
The seemingly inevitable took another step toward becoming reality earlier this month when the NCAA women's Division I golf committee forwarded a recommendation to the NCAA Championship/Sports Management Cabinet that match play be incorporated into the NCAA Women's Championship to help determine the team winner starting in 2015.
Carol Reep, associate director for championships and alliances at the NCAA, said the women's golf committee made its decision to back the change during its summer meeting in early July. Reep was on hand at last week's U.S. Girls' Junior Championship in Fort Wayne, Ind., where she spoke during a meeting of women's coaches and outlined the proposal.
The plan, which the cabinet will review during its next meeting Sept. 10-11, calls for the women's championship to follow an identical six-day platform to the men's championship. Teams would play 54 holes of stroke-play competition with the low eight schools advancing into a match-play bracket where en route to crowning a champion.
The individual championship would follow the new 72-hole structure recently approved for the 2014 men's championship, with the low 36 players and ties after 54 holes of stroke play competing in a final 18 holes of stroke play that would proceed the start of team match play to determine the individual winner.
While the men's championship has 30 teams competing, the women's championship will continue to have 24 schools in the field. However, how they qualify for nationals would change as the proposal also calls for expanding from three regional championships to four. Each regional would have 18 teams and six individuals competing, with six schools and three individuals qualifying for the NCAA Championship.
The decision to move toward match play reflects the changing landscape of college golf, says Reep. In December, Golf Channel announced a partnership with the NCAA that would have the cable network take a proactive, year-round role in promoting the sport, including televising the men's championship annually beginning in 2014 and the women in 2015. Having these two flagship events in consecutive weeks played under different formats, however, has the potential of confusing fans that the game is trying to attract. Given the sometimes confounding nature of the play-five/count-four stroke-play format—along with the potential for less than dramatic blowout similar to what happened last May when USC cruised to a overwhelming 21-stroke victory—match play makes for the TV-friendly alternative.
That the women might one day follow the path of the men and adopt match play has been a point of discussion since the men made the switch for the 2009 NCAA Championship. Opinions seem split, with arguments from women's coaches who are against the change not unlike those of men's coaches who have raised concerns that match play doesn't always identify the best team, not to mention the disconnect in using a format that's hardly every played during the regular season.
To that end, however, at least one prominent event appears ready to experiment with match play next season in preparation for the format's likely inclusion at NCAAs. Georgia women's coach Josh Brewer said via Twitter that the Liz Murphey Collegiate Championship will use the format when played in the spring of 2014.