There are considerable changes proposed by the two college restructuring plans, the Super-Regional Plan and the Conference Plan. Changes that could be put into effect as soon as the 2009-2010 season include implementing Division II Nationals, making pre-season tournaments more meaningful, and redrawing sectional and regional lines. There are a lot of differences that I’m not going to touch on here, as I’m going to focus on how the proposed changes will shape the post season in the women's division. The proposals are complex and sort of difficult to understand, but I’ll try to sort out the most important aspects and explain them without making it too confusing.
This plan combines each of the eight current regions with another into four "Super-Regions" (Northwest and Southwest, Central and Great Lakes, South and Atlantic Coast, Northeast and Metro East), each of which will consist of six sections. Instead of Regionals, Super-Regionals will be played, with 12 teams competing in each Super-Region. The first six spots in each Super-Regional will be filled by six of 24 teams that are selected by a committee to advance straight to Super-Regionals. Then, the teams that weren’t selected as one of the top 24 play in their respective Sectionals, with the winner of each Section advancing to Super-Regionals. The top four finishers in each Super-Regional advance to Division I Nationals, and out of all the teams that fail to qualify, the top four are chosen by a Selection Committee to go to Division I Nationals as well, making a total of 20 teams. There will also be Division II Regionals and Nationals for teams that don’t win their sections and therefore don't qualify for Super-Regionals.
Who it benefits:
1. Top teams. They don’t have much pressure on them because if they screw up at Super-Regionals, they still have a really good shot at getting a bid to Nationals.
2. West Super-Region. They won't have to compete as much with each other to earn a spot at Nationals.
3. Weak sections. Winning one of the six sections guarantees a bid to Super-Regionals.
Who it hurts:
1. Weak Regions. They will no longer have the luxury of two guaranteed bids to Nationals.
2. Teams from cold climates. Teams that can't practice outside in the winter will be at a disadvantage because they tend to not perform as well in the early part of the season, but the selection committee will look at their results against other teams that have the luxury of practicing outside all year round over the course of the entire season, which begins in February.
Using the NUMP poll from the end of the season to predict the teams that would have been selected as the top 24 and results from Sectionals (not taking into account any redrawing of Sections) to fill the remaining spots, here's my estimation of how Super-Regionals would have looked this year:
7. Colorado St.
10. Humboldt St.
12. New Mexico
4. St. Louis*
6. Wisconsin- Eau Claire
7. Iowa St.
9. Case Western Reserve
10. Michigan St.
11. St. Olaf
4. Wake Forest*
7. Wash U
2. Western Washington*
*advance to Division I Nationals
Super-Region teams represented at Nationals:
The aspect of this plan I like the most is that it puts less emphasis on choosing teams that will result in a geographic diversity and more on choosing teams that are of higher quality. Top teams from the Northwest especially that didn’t make Nationals this year were obviously better than some of the teams from weaker regions that did because the way the system is set up now values geographic representation too much. I appreciate the Olympics-like feel of how teams at Nationals are from all over the country, but I think it’s more important to have the best teams competing for the title.
One facet of the proposal that doesn't seem right to me is how the top 24 teams are distributed throughout the Super-Regions. If there are more than six teams from one Super-Region that are selected to go on to Super-Regionals, the top six fill the spots in their own Super-Region, and then the remaining teams are distributed among other Super-Regions. If the team can afford to travel, this is almost definitely an advantage to them because they will be competing in a weaker Super-Region than they came from. I set up my mock-Super-Regionals like this, by putting the top seeds in their home Super-Region and then distributing the remaining teams to whichever Super-Regions were most convenient, giving priority to the higher seeds. This method left a large discrepancy in strengths of the Super-Regions. For example, the West is way stronger than any other Super-Region, so the sectional winners from the West would have to face much more difficult teams and have a slimmer chance at winning a bid to Nationals. More importantly, teams from the West that couldn't get a spot in the West Super-Regionals and had to travel to another Super-Region to play have the advantage of having less competition and a much easier ride to Nationals than teams from the West that are seeded higher. There doesn't seem to be a fair way to divide teams that wouldn't require a lot of traveling. Flying the top teams all over the country to even out the playing fields would make the system more fair but isn't logistically sound. Perhaps the idea behind the wildcard bids is that they would even this out.
I’ll research, try to explain, and analyze the Conference Plan next and decide which I like better.