The pairings for the inaugural NCAA men’s volleyball play-in match in 2014 is set.
NCAA committee member Ron Shayka confirmed to Off the Block via email Monday that the 2014 conference champions from the EIVA and Conference Carolinas will play each other for the final spot in the four-team NCAA Tournament.
The play-in match will be added starting next season to accommodate the Conference Carolinas, a nine-team Division II conference, becoming eligible for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Despite the addition of a new conference, men’s volleyball was unable to expand the NCAA Tournament beyond the current four-team format because the NCAA is in the middle of a budget cycle.
The play-in match pairings were determined from a newly created RPI formula ranking each of the four men’s volleyball conferences. The NCAA committee established that the conferences with the two lowest RPI rankings from the previous season would have to play in the play-in match.
The Conference Carolinas finished the 2013 season at No. 3 in the RPI, while the EIVA finished in last place at No. 4.
The Conference Carolinas champion, Shayka said, will also play host to the 2014 play-in match because it finished ahead of the EIVA in the RPI.
Penn State coach Mark Pavlik said it is frustrating to see how the new RPI and the play-in match postseason format was created. The Nittany Lions, one of two non-West Coast teams to ever win the NCAA championship, have won 14 consecutive EIVA conference champions and have reached the NCAA Tournament all but once in the last 20 years.
“I’m not really thrilled with how it was derived at,” Pavlik said. “I’d like to see some transparency with that and the NCAA. Be that as it may, tell us the rules and we’ll play by it.”
The date for the play-in match has not been set, but it will likely take place in late April, one week before the NCAA Tournament. The play-in match will also force the EIVA to schedule its four-team conference tournament one week earlier than in previous years.
Along with having to compete in the play-in match, both teams — and not the NCAA — will be responsible for covering their own costs for the postseason match.
Pavlik said this could create a financial burden for some EIVA teams if they upset Penn State to win the conference title and qualify for the play-in match.
“From the EIVA you start looking at it and say out of all the programs we’d be the best to handle that, but what happens Harvard has to travel down there and they don’t know until five days before the match,” Pavlik said. “What happens if Princeton and NJIT make it? Are those institutions going to be willing to shell out $20,000 to $25,000? If not, is that a black-eye for men’s volleyball?”