Morning Jac: Pool B's Last Big Party?
Nothing fires up a fan, player or coach from an automatic qualifying conference like Pool B. When the subject of the NCAA's helping-hand plan for independent and non-AQ programs arises among Division III traditionalists, the reaction ranges somewhere between a slow shaking of the head and a white-hot rage.
And that was back when Pool B only had three bids to the tourney.
The agita was heightened last year when Pool B received five bids – the same allotment set aside for at-large teams – and it's the identical to number set aside this spring. I understand the displeasure of handing out bids to a specialized subset of programs that didn't win a tournament game last year and were rolled in three of them. I also understand that if Division III wants to keep its current trajectory in terms of teams added, the Pool B concept is, for lack of a better term, a necessary evil.
Regardless of the prevailing wisdom of the policy, it would appear that the bid binging by Pool B teams could be coming to an end after this year.
At the conclusion of the 2014 campaign, there will be a significant amount of teams coming off the beta books. The MAC Freedom (seven teams), the Ohio Athletic Conference (6), the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (4), the Southern Athletic Association (8) along with five current independents will no longer count toward Pool B berths. That's 30 programs.
Subtract the three CCIW teams – Augustana, Carthage, Elmhurst – that will get bumped into the independent pool in '15 (Illinois Wesleyan, another CCIW team, is an independent this year), along with the 5-10 programs expected to come online next year, and the total pool will have been still cut in half.
Because the NCAA rounds down, this means that the 2015 season will most likely have only two bids for Pool B. It's a number more consistent with the history of the independent platform. Barring a massive flux in conference affiliations or a huge run on new programs (fingers crossed), we're unlikely to see another time when Pool B teams account for one-sixth of the entire Division III bracket as it did for last year and does for this.
That will warm the hearts of those proponents of power conferences, but will it really change the arc of the tournament? Will a second or third team from the NESCAC, Centennial, ODAC or Empire 8 as opposed to an extra independent actually alter how the tourney plays out? We're a year away from finding out.
One thing is certain: we'll never see a period of time so benevolent to Pool B teams as this two-year span.
[UPDATE: the SCAC's plan to add several associate members quietly fell through last spring, so the four SCAC teams will remain in Pool B along with prospective associate members Ferrum, Greensboro, Huntington, Methodist and Piedmont. This could potentially bump Pool B up to 3 bids for '15.]