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The Loop

Thoughts from the GCAA convention, Part I

January 22, 2008

With some time to digest the discussions from the Golf Coaches Association of America's annual convention--as well as work on a couple of stories for this week's issue of Golf World--I've got a few thoughts to ponder. Lets break them down into observations for the rest of this season (to look at today) and observations for the 2008-09 season and beyond (come back tomorrow).

In my opinion ("It's my blog and I can rant if I want to ...") the most pressing issue for the NCAA men's golf committee to address right now is a point several coaches raised at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort last week: the need to standardize what is a win in college golf.

By a 75 to 30 margin in a straw-poll vote, coaches still favor requiring Division I teams have at least a .500 winning percentage for at-large selection to NCAA men's regionals--the infamous ".500 rule" that was adopted this past summer. The problem, however, is there is too much latitude within the current rules for teams to manipulate their schedules so as not to fall below .500.

Consider this scenario: if Team A plays in a one-day, 18-hole tournament with 18 teams and finishes fifth, it receives 13 wins and 4 losses (.764 winning percentage). Now, if Team B plays in a three-day, 54-hole event with 12 teams and finishes fourth, it receives 8 wins and 3 losses (.727 winning percentage). Of course, Team B's victories have come through much more work, but ultimately Team A has done more to improve its chances of not being hurt by the .500 rule.

"If I'm going to play Duke in basketball," noted Georgia Tech men's coach Bruce Heppler, his usual sarcasm dialed up to 10, "I'd like to beat them for a half and not a whole game [and get a win]."

Of course that's not the way men's hoops works, but it is the way golf now does. If the Yellow Jackets beat rival Georgia in an 18-hole tournament, guess what? It counts just the same as if they did it in a 54-hole event, despite the latter accomplishment being much more difficult.

Heppler went on to propose that wins should be earned only by beating teams in 54-hole events. Given that many northern schools need to play 36-hole tournaments to work around weather and course availability issues, I think 36 is more realistic baseline for the NCAA men's golf committee to consider. Both are much more preferable to counting wins in an 18-hole event, where a school can round up 20 teams in its area, play a shotgun and suddenly have some easy Ws added to their record.

What about bad weather shortening tournaments? No problem ... have the rule state that wins are acquired when playing a event that's "scheduled" for a minimum of 36 holes. If rain forces the tournament to just 18, those wins count; the intent was to play more holes both Mother Nature got in the way.

This standardization rule should be done in conjunction with another pitch made by several coaches at the convention: Requiring schools "lock in" their schedules in advance, either at the start of the entire season or at the beginning of the fall and the spring segments, respectively. There are teams out there (and you know who you are, UNLV) that have pulled out of events midseason to avoid suffering possible losses against stronger competition, replacing the tournaments with other events against weaker opponents. (Or maybe dropping a 54-event tournament and getting into a 18-hole event and a 36-hole event where they can offset earlier bad performances.)

No other sport allows for changes to a schedule in midseason. Can you see a college football coach drop his first two games of the season, then go to his athletic director and ask to re-schedule his next two non-conference games to play weaker opponents in hopes of going 6-6 and getting into a bowl game? (When retired Oklahoma State golf coach Mike Holder, chair of the NCAA men's golf committee and currently the Cowboys' athletic director, joked about this, I swear I thought I saw smoke come out of his ears.)

So here's my thought: Schools should finalize their fall schedules by a date in early September (lets make it Sept. 10) and their spring schedules by at date in early February (how about Feb. 10). The only way a school can add a tournament midseason is if another tournament on its set schedule is canceled or shortened because of weather.

Bottom line: To honestly allow the .500 rule to have its full effect, the NCAA men's golf committee needs to define what a win actually is and make schools commit to a firm, fixed schedule.