Chairman Ron Shayka is the first to admit his fellow selection committee members and him face unprecedented challenges in the sport’s history for the upcoming men’s volleyball NCAA Tournament.
With a new postseason format, Shayka said in an interview with Off the Block earlier this week that the committee is having to figure out everything from difficult team travel logistics to awarding at-large bids in tight and large field of bubble teams.
Shayka is one of three committee members that will determine the six-team field for the upcoming NCAA Tournament. The committee is scheduled to unveil the tournament field as part of Selection Sunday on April 27.
Check out the complete interview between Shayka and Off the Block as he discusses the NCAA Tournament selection process and the challenges facing the committee this year.
Off the Block: We are now less than a month away from Selection Sunday. What is this time of the year like for you and your fellow committee members?
Ron Shayka: We start taking a look at what’s happening. We are looking at some standings. We are looking at some head-to-head matches, and really each member of our committee tries to get a feel as to what’s going on in their region. We have some pretty frequent conference calls in preparation for championship weekend and sprinkled in there is some discussion as to what is happening competively in each of our regions.
OTB: This year there’s a different format to the NCAA Tournament by adding two play-in matches and expanding the field to six teams. Has it felt different going through this process because of those changes compared to previous years?
RS: Absolutely. I don’t even think difference does justice to what the committee is going through this year. It’s a real learning curve. We’re very excited about the additional teams that will be playing in the postseason. Our main task will be to do as good of a job as possible facilitating this championship. Because there is no precedent for it, we are trying to make decisions for the this first time without any background. This will be the first time we do it this way and hopefully it will go off smoothly.
OTB: Going off that, what do you think is going to be one of the more challenging decisions your group is going to have to make that is unprecedented for college men’s volleyball?
RS: I don’t know if the decisions will be that different because we are going to be using our criteria that is essentially going to reward the four conference champions with advancement and instead of just one at-large team we’ll select two. We are expanding the field, but we are using the same process. That doesn’t change. What really is the biggest challenge are the logistics. And trying to get information out to the schools as quickly as possible with championships finishing on a Saturday night and the first round of play-in games being Tuesday. We’ve got a lot of information that has to be disseminate and teams really have to get their acts together to finalize their travel plans.
OTB: Talking about this season, I know we can’t get into specifics about each team, but you’ve on this committee before. Have you ever experienced a year like this where it just seems like there’s an absolutely log-jam of six to eight teams fighting for an at-large berth.
RS: This year is a perfect example of that saying, be careful what you ask for. Being involved in men’s volleyball as long as I have, we always talked about how great it would be to see some parity and to see there be a number of teams coming down to the wire competing for an opportunity to advance. We are finally getting that, and we’re getting it with strong performances from around the country. It’s happening. It’s very exciting, but it does put the pressure on us to make sure that when it comes time to select those two at-large positions that we do the best job that we can and in the fairest way that we can.
OTB: Talking about the selection process, out of the nine pieces of criteria is there going to be a piece of criteria the selection committee weighs more heavily this year in deciding the at-large bids and seeding?
RS: Just because of the nature of this year, I don’t know right now if we’ve determined anything that is a higher priority than the other. I think as we watch, and as we get into each of these weeks in April and we see how things start to play-out we may change that or we may feel that something is more beneficial than something else. But right now we haven’t identified anything up front.
OTB: With your region of the East Coast, you’re representing not only the EIVA but the Conference Carolinas. What have you seen from those two conference this season?
RS: Something that we are seeing from around the country is that teams are starting to knock each other off. The powers, particularly in the East like Penn State, are rising to the top again but they have been challenged a fair amount this season. Realistically you have three teams in the East that could win it and you can make a case for winning the championship, judging by their play so far this year. I think what happened in the Conference Carolinas, Erskine jumped out early on but Mount Olive has clawed their way back so I’m not sure how that is going play out other than no one is going to walk into it and take it.
OTB: Looking ahead at the NCAA Tournament. It’s going to be in Chicago for the first time. We are about a month away from the start. What are you feelings about the tournament that’s going to be at Loyola?
RS: We are really excited. Someone has already looked good with the fact that Loyola has been sitting at the top of the polls for most of the year. That in of itself is a little unique that you’d have a MIVA team holding down the No. 1 slot but to also have the prospect of a potential No. 1 slot playing on their home floor has really generated a lot of excitement you can imagine in the Chicago area. We were really as a committee very happy to bring the championship to Chicago because of its reputation for the sport of volleyball in general but in men’s volleyball as well. I think you’re starting to see a lot of the efforts put into place over the years to grow the game and expand teams’ abilities to compete for championships are starting to come to fruition. It’s exciting and adds a different dimension to the championship.