A column by James Gensterblum, a Hillsdale Daily News Correspondent
The NCAA has come under a lot of fire in recent years for some of the decisions it has made as a governing body.
It’s been criticized for everything from the punishments it hands out to programs that break the rules (or, as is often the case, lack of punishments) to the sponsors it lines up for its postseason tournaments.
There’s almost nothing more controversial, tough, than which teams get into those postseason tournaments, and which get left out. Just log on to a message board after the field for the Big Dance is released each year if you don’t believe me.
Saturday night, the NCAA had another tough choice to make, this one regarding the last open spot in the Division II football playoffs’ Midwest region.
The national committee that had the final say over who gets in and who is left in the cold could take a Wayne St. (Neb.) team that was the logical choice for the spot based on all of the mathematical formulas used to put together the regional rankings which help decide who gets in and who doesn’t.
Or, they could go with their eyes and take a Hillsdale College team that had beaten one of the best teams in the Midwest region and was playing as well as any team that had already secured a playoff berth over the last few weeks.
In the end, the committee chose Hillsdale to be the number six seed in the tournament even though the numbers may have said otherwise.
In doing so, they went against the recommendation of the Midwest’s regional committee that had given Wayne St. the nod just hours earlier. They also went against the computers who had identified Wayne St. as the stronger team because of their superior strength of schedule.
And despite those mitigating factors, they made the right decision.
In choosing Hillsdale over Wayne St, the NCAA’s national committee used their authority and followed form of NCAA Division II handbook to reinforce the idea that what a team does on the field matters more than the decisions their athletic departments make off of it.
The computers liked Wayne St. more than Hillsdale because before the first game had even been played, Wayne St. had scheduled a Nebraska-Kearney team to open the season as a non-conference opponent, while Hillsdale had chosen St. Joseph’s (Ind.).
After losing the opening week game to Wayne St., Kearney proceeded to go 10-1 on the season against lackluster competition, while Hillsdale’s opening opponent could only manage a 5-6 record on the year.
Because Kearney had such a gaudy record, Wayne St. had a huge advantage over Hillsdale in strength of schedule, even though Kearney had run its record up against a set of mostly cupcake teams.
And to the computers, that only see strength of schedule, nothing else was as important as that difference.
Not the fact that Hillsdale ended up 9-2 on the year, while Wayne St. finished one game back at 8-3.
Not the fact that Hillsdale put up that record in the rugged GLIAC, whereas Wayne St. put up theirs in the less harsh Northern Sun Conference.
Not even the fact that Hillsdale had a signature win over the region’s No. 2 team Grand Valley St, while Wayne State’s biggest win was against that unimpressive Kearney team, could overcome that difference in that one game for the computers.
Don’t get me wrong, Wayne St. is a solid team with a legitimate case to make the playoffs.
But in comparison to a Hillsdale team that is riding a five-game winning streak, has a win over a national powerhouse, and has shown the ability not only to play playoff level football but to play at a level competitive with any school in the country, Wayne State’s case just doesn’t hold up.
Thankfully, the NCAA, which has been much maligned in the past for decisions just like this one, made the right call this time.