ATN Podcast: East implodes?

UW-Whitewater cornerback Matt McCulloch knocks a pass away from UW-Stevens Point receiver Jared Jenkins.
Photo by Darryl Tessman,

So, yes, the East’s last best chance at a No. 1 seed went by the wayside this weekend when Cortland rallied to beat Montclair State. And yes, Mount Union wasn’t ranked No. 1 in the North in the last poll, but that doesn’t mean the Purple Raiders can’t still make the move.

Pool B got a shakeup Saturday when Case Western Reserve took its first loss after 38 consecutive regular-season victories. How far does this open the door for other Pool B contenders?

Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan discuss the possibilities in this week’s Around the Nation Podcast. But there’s more — Keith visited UW-Whitewater on Saturday for the first time since 2005 and came away impressed by all that has changed at Perkins Stadium in the past five years. Plus, there’s a bunch of big games coming up next week as teams try to wrap up automatic bids.

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Playoff primer: Pool B, Pool C

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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
It doesn’t want one. The league doesn’t want to participate in the NCAA playoffs in football.

Q: I have a question you haven’t answered. What do I do?
E-mail and/or post below in the comments section.

USA South might need a team

It’s true — Shenandoah’s move to the ODAC for 2012-13 doesn’t immediately put the USA South’s automatic bid to the football playoffs in jeopardy. However, there are surely more moves to come.

Even with no more changes, the USAC will have seven football-playing members in 2012, the minimum required to maintain an automatic bid, because Maryville is an associate member of the league. However, the departure of Shenandoah from the league means there are just six teams remaining in the other men’s sports in the conference: Averett, Christopher Newport, Ferrum, Greensboro, Methodist and North Carolina Wesleyan. After a two-year waiting period, the conference would lose its automatic bid in baseball, men’s basketball and other sports in 2014-15, unless additions are made.

Now, I went into this in more detail on the Daily Dose, but I’ll whittle it down to bullet points for the football-focused discussion.

  • The USA South needs more men’s members.
  • The nearest available schools are from the Great South, which does not sponsor football.
  • Adding those schools greatly reshapes the footprint of the conference.
  • That would make Christopher Newport an extreme geographic outlier in the northeast corner of the league.
  • CNU could then decide to leave for reasons of travel costs, same as Shenandoah did.
  • Therefore, change might be even more urgent.

Here’s a couple of things that could happen. The USA South could choose to bring in Huntingdon and LaGrange as associate members in football as well, bringing the league to nine schools, although the conference really needs at least one full member with men. (The league has three women’s-only schools.) Piedmont is the closest school of the Great South to USAC country, but doesn’t have football. Huntingdon is a few hours further away. A full USAC-GSAC merger is possible but fairly large for women’s sports and perhaps unwieldy for men’s sports, although a divisional setup is possible as two other non-football schools in Georgia work their way into the GSAC.

Bottom line: Huntingdon and LaGrange could still be out in the cold. But if Christopher Newport leaves for all sports and finds football affiliate membership somewhere besides the USA South, the conference will need them.