If it was up to NCAA committee chairman Brian Santiago, the men’s volleyball Division I-II NCAA Tournament would be expanded to eight teams.
Instead Santiago is stuck in NCAA limbo, trying to make the best of a potentially bad situation.
Despite a new conference eligible for the an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament starting next season, Santiago said the tournament will not be truly expanded beyond its current four-team format until at the earliest 2016 because the NCAA is in the middle of its budget cycle.
“We as a committee would love to see it expand to six or eight teams,” Santiago said. “We are committed to trying to expand the sport and to expand the championship, but the key factor here is the budget cycle.”
With the NCAA budget set for at least the next two years, college sports like men’s volleyball are not permitted to expand their national championship tournaments until the NCAA approves its next budget.
This financial and tournament freeze has created a challenge for Santiago and the two other members of the NCAA men’s volleyball committee.
The men’s volleyball NCAA Tournament since its inception in 1970 has been a four-team field comprised of three conference automatic berths and a single at-large bid. However, starting in 2014 the Conference Carolinas, a nine-team Division II conference, will begin to receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament after spending four years as an emerging conference.
The NCAA requires that all national championships have at least one at-large bid. As a result, Santiago and the NCAA committee is stuck trying to figure how to fit five teams into a four-team field while not expanding the tournament.
“We are trying to manage the addition of the Carolinas as a league and how that would play in managing the automatic qualifying spot,” Santiago, who is also an associate athletics director at BYU, said.
With one week before the start of the 2013 NCAA Tournament, Santiago said the committee has not finalized what the tournament will look like next season. The chairman said the committee had significant discussions during its meetings last year and will likely make the formal announcement later this summer of what it will do for the 2014 season.
The most likely scenario — and in many ways the only scenario because of the NCAA budget freeze — will be to create a play-in match between two of the four conference champions. However, trying to figure out what two conference champions would have to compete in the play-in match is difficult, Santiago said.
“What you are trying to do is put the most fair process in play that is a win-win for all sides and everyone feels is a fair way to determine who gets the automatic berth,” he said. “There are some challenges there. “
The favored possibility to determine the play-in teams, committee member Ron Shayka said, is to implement Relative Percentage Index that is used in other college sports to rank teams.
The men’s volleyball RPI formula, though, would rank each of the four conferences. The two conferences with the lowest scores from the previous year would have to play in the play-in match, Shayka said.
Santiago said the committee is examining a variety of RPI models currently used by the NCAA but did not release any of the specific criteria to be used in the RPI because nothing has been finalized yet.
“We haven’t made any concert decisions on how that will be determined, but we are looking for as much data and important information that can help us determine the best way and fairest way to give everyone an opportunity to compete for a national championship,” Santiago said.
The potential play-in match, Santiago said, is hopefully a temporary solution before true tournament expansion can take place when the next NCAA budget is passed. However, Santiago said there is no guarantee that the NCAA will take on the extra expenses of expanding the tournament even when the next budget is introduced.
The four-team men’s volleyball NCAA Tournament is the smallest NCAA Tournament for any sport.
In addition, men’s volleyball has one of the smallest percentages of teams that can make the NCAA Tournament of any sport. It is also one of the few NCAA Tournaments with the at-large bids making up less than 50 percent of the tournament fields.
Of the 38 NCAA Division I-II men’s volleyball teams only 10.5 percent of those teams make the NCAA Tournament. In comparison, of the 330 NCAA Division I women’s volleyball teams, a 19.4 percent of those teams make their 64-team NCAA Tournament.
“We are committed to doing everything we can to expanding the sport and give additional opportunities to schools,” Santiago said. “We’d like to see the championship expanded but we have to go through the process and the NCAA process.”