From now until the end of the regular season you may well see a lot of Division III buzzwords floating about on our front page, here in the Daily Dose and on our message boards. Pool A, Pool B, Pool C, OWP, OOWP … what do those all mean?
Pool A, Pool B and Pool C are the labels given to groups (also known as Pools) of bids awarded to the playoffs. The field is 32 teams, who meet in five rounds of playoffs culminating in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 18, in Salem, Va.
Understanding Pool A is fairly simple — let’s just pretend that ‘A’ stands for automatic. Those are the 23 automatic bids that are awarded. If there’s a tie at the top of a conference’s standings at the end of the season, the conference itself is responsible for determining who gets the automatic bid. (Most, if not all, conferences separate two-way ties with the head-to-head result.)
If you are not in one of those 23 conferences, there are three bids set aside for you, which are referred to as Pool B bids. The best three teams out of that group, which encompasses all independents, the Atlantic Central Football Conference, the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference, the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference and University Athletic Association, get bids.
Every eligible team not already selected is dropped into Pool C, which consists of six truly at-large bids. At-large bids are determined using the NCAA’s criteria, which includes regional winning percentage, strength of schedule, head-to-head competition, results against common opponents and results against regionally ranked teams.
If your conference has an automatic bid and your team doesn’t win it, then you are only eligible for Pool C bids. If your conference doesn’t have an automatic bid, you are eligible for Pool B or Pool C.
Q: How can my team guarantee it will get into the playoffs?
A: Win your conference’s automatic bid. There’s no guarantees otherwise. If you’re a Pool B team, running the table is all you can do. No team has ever been left out of the playoffs in this system after running the table, regardless of strength of schedule. But one-loss teams with a weak schedule have not been as lucky.
Q: When will we find out which brackets meet in the national semifinals?
A: On Selection Sunday. They are not predetermined and do not rotate. The NCAA committee determines who it thinks the two best No. 1 seeds are in the bracket and makes sure they are set on opposite ends, to meet in Salem.
Q: If the two best teams are in the same region, will they be placed in separate brackets?
A: This is at least possible, but highly unlikely. They don’t seed this tournament like a D-I tournament, unfortunately. Teams are placed in groups according to geography and seeded, though keeping teams from having to travel 500 miles in the first round is more important to the NCAA than maintaining proper matchups.
Q: There are a lot of criteria to go through. How can I tell where my team stands?
A: The NCAA releases regional rankings after Week 8, 9 and 10. They use the same criteria that they’ll use to select at-large teams, so they’re a good indication of where teams in the same region are relative to each other. However, being No. 6 in one region doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ahead of a team that’s No. 7 in one of the other three.
Q: So if I’m ranked eighth in these rankings, I’m in the playoffs?
A: No. There are still the 23 automatic bids. They’ll all get in first. Take the 23 automatic bids out of the rankings (and keep in mind some conferences don’t have anyone in these rankings) and three Pool B teams, then the remaining six get in.
Q: Why doesn’t the NESCAC get an automatic bid?
A: It doesn’t want one. The league doesn’t want to participate in the NCAA playoffs in football.
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