News & ToursDecember 10, 2008

NGCA's 'convention'-al thinking

__LAS VEGAS--__I'm breaking the local motto around here and deciding that what goes on in Vegas isn't going to stay in Vegas when it comes to the National Golf Coaches Association's annual convention. Long story short, the news from Sin City isn't all that salacious. Short story long, there is at least one big-stakes issue surfacing that could have some real long-term consequences.

__* College participation in LPGA and Futures Tour Q schools. __

The annual appearance of a sacrificial lamb compliance officer from NCAA headquarters let the question of where the NCAA stands on collegians competing in Q schools to be asked again. Surprisingly, the NCAA has been OK with allowing players to participate in Q schools and then letting them return to college should they not earn a card. Truth be told, the NCAA seems more accepting of this than most coaches, many of whom actually would like the NCAA to take a tougher stand on the matter and not allow players to compete at Q school. The NCAA then would be the "bad cop" that the coaches could blame when telling players (that's you, Jaclyn Sweeney) they can't miss class time and/or  jump ship half way through the season if they do earn a card.

The coaches might get their wish, however, as the compliance guy here (a decent fellow, actually, named Steve Clar) made it sound like the circumstances surrounding how things work at Q schools might be getting close enough to crossing the line on the "intent to professionalize" as to warrant another look by the folks in Indianapolis. Interestingly, it might be the Duramed Futures Tour's allowance for players to hang on to a tour card until the summer--letting players stay in school another semester rather than jump ship in December--that brings the whole thing down.

* Expanding the number of teams competing at NCAA regionals.

The NCAA golf committee's request to add three more schools to the field at each of the three regionals (increasing the number of teams overall from 61 to 70) has advanced to the NCAA championship cabinet and is expected to be voted on in February. It seems likely this will be approved for the 2009-10 season.

* Host courses for the 2010 NCAA regionals and nationals.

A change in the NCAA national office on how the bid process occurred for championships in all sports delayed the golf committee's ability to name hosts for the 2010 postseason. The process, however, is back on track and the three regional sites and the NCAA Championship host site should be picked by mid-January.

* Overhauling the selection process for the NGCA Hall of Fame.

A subcommittee led by Tennessee coach Judi Pavon is fleshing out details on a points system that would be used in the future to determine what golfers qualify for the players' wing of the Hall of Fame, something akin to how the LPGA handles its HofF selections. This would allow juniors to know exactly what it would take while in college for them to achieve the honor. Currently, players are nominated by their schools with the requirement that the player must have actually graduated from college to be considered (it's why, for instance, Annika Sorenstam isn't in the Hall of Fame). Graduation might not be a future requirement but would be another way to earn the necessary points to qualify.

* Coaches giving advice on greens and in bunkers.

Like grandma's Christmas fruit cake, this issue keeps coming back each year. Honestly, I've never seen such bickering over such a seemingly frivolous thing. Nancy Cross, chair of the D-I golf committee, said that her committee was still debating the matter and that no decision had been made as to whether to change the rules and allow this to happen (as is the case in the men's game). Current sentiment suggests it's going to be changed soon, but then again I've been hearing that for a decade now.

* The ".500 rule"

A year and a half after it was put in place in the men's game, women's coaches are in the early stages of exploring whether to require that schools have a winning record to be selected for at-large berths to NCAA regionals. It wasn't hotly debated here in Vegas, but it's definitely something that lower profile "mid-major" programs want to see reviewed sooner than later.

The arguments heard during the debate among the men's coaches are all brewing on the women's side as well: to qualify currently for nationals requires being ranked high in the Golfstat rankings; to be ranked high requires a strong strength of schedule; smaller schools don't get invited to the top tournaments so their strength of schedule can't improve; mandating a .500 or better winning percentage will force top teams to invite the smaller schools to big events, allowing the smaller schools a chance to take on the bigger schools head-to-head. Higher profile schools, meanwhile, want to compete against the best competition and thus don't want to have to invite lower ranked teams to their events.

This issue won't be decided in the next few months but will become a big deal in the not too distant future. Just like with the men, it's sure to polarize things between the "haves" and the "have nots" and promises to become a sticking point for conventions to come.

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