The controversial selection of Indiana/Purdue-Fort Wayne for the at-large berth in the NCAA men’s volleyball Final Four has Cal State Northridge Coach John Price contemplating scheduling changes and playoff alternatives.
In an unprecedented move announced Sunday, the three-person NCAA selection committee snubbed third-ranked Stanford (20-9), the West region’s at-large candidate, for 11th-ranked IPFW (19-6), the Midwest region’s nominee.
Price, whose Northridge team lost to UCLA in the national championship match last season, called the choice “ridiculous” and “embarrassing to the sport.”
He also said the move might preclude Northridge from scheduling early-season trips to the Midwest and East Coast as well as force Mountain Pacific Sports Federation coaches to consider altering the conference’s postseason tournament. The past three years, the winner of the MPSF tournament has received the only at-large berth in the Final Four. MPSF teams have won every NCAA championship since 1970.
“The whole reason for the tournament was to make it so West Coast teams wouldn’t fight with each other,” Price said. “We wanted to take the team that was playing best at the end of the year.”
Stanford lost a match against UCLA for the conference’s automatic bid to the Final Four, but then rebounded to defeat sixth-ranked Pepperdine and second-ranked Brigham Young to capture the tournament title.
Meanwhile, IPFW lost to Ball State, 15-4, 15-10, 15-10, in the Midwest regional on its home court in Fort Wayne.
“To get beat like that in a situation where everything is on the line, if that was my team I’d say we didn’t deserve to go,” Price said. “I wouldn’t be twisting the numbers and politicking to get in.”
Ironically, Bob Hiegert, Northridge’s athletic director, is the chairman of the selection committee. Hiegert said NCAA guidelines recommend the choice be based overall record, head-to-head competition when appropriate, strength of schedule and record against common opponents.
Stanford had a far stronger schedule and a better mark against common opponents, but IPFW had a better overall record plus a four-game victory over the Cardinal in a February nonconference match in Fort Wayne.
Price said West Coast teams annually make winter trips to “promote the sport.” He said top teams use the trips to give young players experience playing before partisan crowds. “I’d be real surprised if anyone goes back there now,” Price said. “It cost Stanford. It wiped out what they did the rest of the season.”