The (long) trip to Women's Regionals
The fields are set for the women’s Division I NCAA regionals (here is Monday's announcement) and there’s more to talk about frankly than I figured there would be. It’s not that any worthwhile teams were left behind (Oregon is the only school that likely can gripe with having had its bubble burst) or that any of the three regionals sites is particularly lopsided (seven top-25 teams are in the East; nine in the Central; nine in the West). What’s turned some heads is the amount of traveling several of the top teams are going to have to make just to qualify for nationals.
Notable, for instance, is that for the first time in 14 years, Duke will be playing outside the East region, the Blue Devils having been given the top seed in the Central Regional. Seems odd to me that the Division I women’s golf committee would move the defending national champions, currently ranked No. 1 in Golf World's coaches poll and every other major poll, out of their “home” region. What kind of reward is that for having another standout five-win season? The move is particularly harsh when you consider if Duke had stayed east, they would have played at Bryan Park GC in Browns Summit, N.C. Not only is that course less than an hour's drive from Durham, N.C., but it’s also where Duke has won six of the last seven Bryan National Collegiate tournaments. Instead the Blue Devils are shipped to Texas where they’ll compete at The Traditions at Texas A&M.
It’s not just the Blue Devils, however, who find themselves making different travel arrangements than anticipated. Nine of the top 15 teams in the country were moved outside their traditional geographic region (and 14 teams overall from the 63 selected). Arizona State gets the prestige of being a top seed, but has been shipped out east to take the spot most assumed was Duke’s. (The only top seed that wasn’t moved was UCLA, which stays in the West and will play at Washington National GC outside Seattle.) For the third straight year, No. 5 Georgia is going west. And in the Central Regional, four of the top five seeds (Duke, Southern California, Pepperdine and Florida) have been moved.
The primary reason behind the relocations is understandable: the committee wants to makes sure all three regionals are balanced so that no team has an “easier” road to advance to the NCAA Championship at Ohio State’s Scarlet Course May 23-26. In talking to Barbara Camp, chair of the Women's Golf Committee, the format used for placing teams begins by ranking the top 15 overall and then match them by using an "S curve": Nos. 1, 6, 7, 12 and 13 in Pod A; Nos. 2, 5, 8, 11 and 14 in Pod B; and Nos. 3, 4, 9, 10 and 15 in Pod C. In doing this, Duke wound up in the same pod as Texas A&M, host of the Central Regional, and Arizona State was in the same pod as Wake Forest, host of the East Regional. The committee, however, can't move a host school out of its region, hence Duke having to join Texas A&M in the Central and Arizona State being with Wake out East.
“It just happened that way," Camp told me in a phone interview. "We didn’t want to move the No. 1 team in the country any more than anybody else did but that’s just the way it came out this year.”
It was a pretty large complaint from coaches a year ago, and no doubt Camp didn’t want a repeat of the situation in 2006. A bit of advice for you, though, Barbara: Don’t be surprised if you get a earful from coaches again. No doubt many won’t be thrilled that what their assumed would be a leisurely drive to their regional site turned into a 2½-hour flight.