The NCAA Selection Committee Robbed UCI

The NCAA loves controversy. Whether it is football or basketball, the picking and choosing of teams into a postseason tournament always creates fuss. Year in and year out, the Bowl Championship Series or the selection committee for the Big Dance make some interesting decisions when it comes to selecting teams to compete for a national title and leaving other teams out. The selection committee often crushes the hopes and dreams of deserving teams by leaving them out of the postseason.

This time around, the sport wasn’t basketball or football. Instead, it was soccer. This time around, the selection committee crushed the hopes for the UC Irvine men’s soccer team.

On Monday, Nov. 15 the soccer selection committee announced the 48 teams that will vie to play in the title game on Dec. 12. Some of the notable selections: UC Santa Barbara, the winners of the Big West Tournament, the University of Denver Pioneers and the University of New Mexico Lobos. One glaring omission — the UCI Anteaters.

It is unfathomable to see how the selection committee came to omit the Anteaters. As of last Tuesday, the ’Eaters ranked 13th in the nation. I know rankings don’t mean everything, but that is like a college basketball team that ranked in the top 15th in the national polls all season long and was not selected to the NCAA Tournament. This just doesn’t happen.

The Anteaters certainly passed the eye test as they compiled an impressive resume throughout the regular season. The ’Eaters amassed an overall record of 14-3-3 and a conference record of 7-1-2. For a majority of the season,  UCI was ranked No. 1 in the West Regional Rankings. In the last six weeks of the regular season, the Anteaters ranked in the top 10 in the national polls.

As baffling as the UCI omission may be, it is also head-scratching to see the teams that were selected to the tournament over UCI. Bids were given to University of Denver and to University of New Mexico, two teams whose resumes don’t compare to UCI’s. Like the Anteaters, both of these teams lost in the semifinals of the conference tournaments. The Denver Pioneers and the New Mexico Lobos won nine games this season, five fewer than the Anteaters. The Lobos split their season series with Air Force. When the Anteaters played the Air Force Academy, they recorded with a 5-0 shutout victory. The Pioneers played UNLV twice this season and they failed to record a win, going 0-1-1. When the ’Eaters matched up against UNLV, they held the Nevada school scoreless and found the back of the net four times.

It is just inconceivable to see that the Anteaters were not selected to the tournament when all season long they showed that they were more than capable of competing with the best teams in the nation.

A lot of the blame should be placed on the Ratings Percentage Index, better known as RPI. The RPI evaluates a team’s wins and losses, as well as a team’s strength of schedule. When the Anteaters lost to Cal State Fullerton on Nov. 10, the ’Eaters’ RPI dropped to 62nd in the nation.

The NCAA’s dependence on RPI is what sparks so much controversy when it comes to the national rankings and postseason tournaments. RPI rewards teams that play in “power” or “stronger” conferences, while it punishes those teams, like UCI, that play in lesser known or “weaker” conferences.

If this is what the RPI does, then the NCAA should just create another division for the schools that play in the so-called “weaker” conferences because they are being punished for playing the teams in their conference. This is one of the reasons why schools that don’t play in the Atlantic Coast Conference or the Pacific 10 Conference have to load up on non-conference opponents to boost their RPI rating.

Until the NCAA moves away from such a flawed system, postseason selections will always cause controversy.
Many complain that the BCS does not work and would like to see a playoff system installed in college football. Even if a playoff system were created, it would still hinder schools like Boise State, Texas Christian University and the University of Utah. The same thing that happened to the Anteaters could potentially happen to any of these schools because of the conference they play in and their weak RPI.

The selection committee got it right when they selected the UCI women’s soccer team. Even though they failed to win their conference tournament, they were still selected to the NCAA Tournament. The decision proved to be a wise one as the Lady Anteaters beat Arizona State and Wake Forest before falling to the Washington Huskies on Nov. 20. It’s a shame the men’s team was not given the same chance to excel, like they have in past years, in the post-season.
However, as much as I hate to say it or admit it, the Anteaters do have to blame themselves. The Anteaters were done in by their own doing, losing to a 3-14-2 team in Cal State Northridge. After beating Fullerton by seven goals in two regular season meetings, UCI laid a stinker against the Titans in the opening round of the Big West Tournament. They controlled their own destiny and all they needed to do was win if they wanted to compete in the NCAA Tournament, but they failed to do so.

Anteaters, take this disappointment to heart. Your regular season success determines conference tournament seeding but, in reality, it means nothing. Use this blunder as motivation to wreck havoc on the soccer world next season.