Q&A with national selection chair, Part II

This week Around the Nation digs deep into the "A game is a game" rule change that takes effect next season. As for this year, parity has ruled. Who's No. 1 in Week 4? Good question. The Sea Gulls are as good an answer as any.
Capital Athletic Conference photo 

This week Around the Nation wraps up its conversation with Gregg Kaye, the national committee selection chair in charge of choosing and bracketing the field of 56. Kaye gives the lowdown on next year's major rule change and more.

Q&A with national selection chair, Part I

Before that, a few sentences about the season to date. This voter isn't certain which teams deserve to be in the top 10 or the No. 1 position, but a ballot must be turned in. It's clear that a favorite has yet to emerge this season. It's not out of the question that one may never emerge. It's early, but it appears that parity could reign throughout the year. That goes for all of the regions, and that's intriguing. Away we go.

Ricky Nelson: “A game is a game” debuts next season [beginning in the 2013-14 academic year, all competition between full-member D-III institutions, and competition involving third- and fourth-year provisional institutions, will count in the primary selection criteria. Excepting extraordinary situations that would lead to the NCAA accepting a waiver claim, teams will be required to play 70 percent of all countable competition in-region in order to become postseason eligible, up from the 50-percent threshold teams must meet currently]. I’ve heard a range of positive and negative responses about it from the coaches. What are the rule change’s benefits and potential shortcomings?

Gregg Kaye: Just like everybody else, it’s a new concept for us. And I think time will tell how it’s going to work out. I know from a personal standpoint, as somebody that follows it as a fan, as somebody that was involved in the selection process as well, I like the notion that quality wins over quality opponents should manifest itself not only better in the selection criteria but the parts of the selection criteria that focus on results. And I would say the same goes for scheduling quality opponents translating over to strength of schedule criteria. If you play somebody good, it would be nice to know that that enters into the primary criteria. If you’re putting together a strong schedule, I think that’s something, too, that needs to enter into the equation as well.

Now, the other new accommodation that teams are going to have to make – the 70-percent rule – it may keep those scheduling opportunities in check to some degree. But I think the positive there is that if you’re able to pick up a really strong game against a team outside your region, I think it’s great that that will show up in the strength of schedule numbers. If you are fortunate enough to beat them, it’s nice to know that that’s going to show up in your numbers.

Now, assuming a team doesn’t have an issue with the 70-percent requirement of regional games, I think it also might help the teams in the smaller regions in terms of numbers, like the West and South, because they can now improve their body of work by having more opponents from which to schedule while also giving their primary numbers a boost just simply by stepping on the field. If you’ve only got 40 teams to choose from in putting together a regional schedule, that’s a lot more challenging than those of us that may have 70 or 80 regional opponents that we can choose from.

I think another benefit might be that it gives us more common opponents when we start considering Pool C teams from different regions on the selection call. That’s one criterion that, right now, doesn’t give us a whole lot to work with when Pool C candidates are being considered. So, perhaps now, by factoring some of those cross-region games into the primary criteria, perhaps now it will give us a little more information to work with. And I think many folks – coaches, committee members – I think we’re all anxious to see how it will play out.

RN: Speaking of interests perhaps – you seem like a knowledgeable fellow – on the face of it, it kind of seems like a simple rule. But I think there are maybe some sticking points, and maybe you can help me out with some of these. The 70-percent rule, is that based on games completed or merely scheduled?

GK: It’s games completed. As teams run into weather issues, that’s something that they need to be cognizant of. It’s my understanding that, when you have rules like that, there are always mechanisms in place where schools can apply for waivers. Let’s say the entire last two weeks of your season get rained out, there’s always an opportunity for waivers to be submitted to consider special circumstances. But, essentially, it is games completed as opposed to games that are scheduled.

RN: And what is the penalty for anyone having a schedule anywhere from 0-69 percent in-region?

GK: Well, I would think that, just like now, where you’ve got a 50-percent requirement, I would think if someone falls short, that that would render them ineligible for postseason selection.

I know when we’ve talked about it as a committee, our feeling is that we want to not penalize teams that are making an honest, good-faith attempt to play the games that they need to play. And sometimes things happen that are out of your control.

My top 5 games of the week (March 20-26):

March 20: No. 12 Western New England vs. No. 13 Ramapo Around the Nation picked both to go to Appleton. Bonus: it's also an in-region game.

March 22: No. 8 Kean vs. Eastern Connecticut St. Evergreen programs have combined for a 459-146 record and 11 regional appearances since 2007.

March 23: No. 5 St. Thomas vs. No. 20 UW-Stevens Point Round 4 of UST vs. the Midwest Region's elite; UWSP leads the series 8-4 since 2007.

March 23: No. 4 Marietta vs Huntingdon The Hawks could be sitting pretty for an at-large berth with 1 or 2 in-region wins against the champs.

March 24: No. 6 Linfield vs Whitworth The NWC marathon picks up the pace with a momentous series between recent finals participants. 

Now, because it’s new, or because it will be new, that’s something that we’re still waiting to receive some direction on from the championships committee as far as how any waivers work, what would happen in a situation where, all of a sudden, the last day of the season, something doesn’t get completed and it keeps somebody a little bit short of that 70 percent number. So, we’re still waiting to get some of the details as far as how all of that is going to work.

But I know that within the committee itself, our feeling is we want to reward people for making the attempt to do what they’re required to do, knowing full well that sometimes circumstances don’t always allow those things to work out. Just like the other elements of “a game is a game,” that’s something that we’re still anxious to see how, exactly, that whole 70-percent thing is going to be implemented and enforced and how it’s going to work itself out.

RN: And that probably speaks to this, because it’s a big sea change going from 50 to 70 percent. Do you know if there’s going to be anything set up for maybe coaches and institutions to get their schedules confirmed?

GK: I may be wrong in stating this, but I’m pretty sure that the ABCA [American Baseball Coaches Association] is trying to compile resources that are going to help coaches. A perfect example is: you’re kind of a victim of your spring break schedule. If you’re going to a certain part of the country, and you’re going to pick up 10 games, which in some cases could be a quarter of your schedule, if you’re not on break at the same time as many of your regional opponents, or if you’re going to a different part of the country than many of them are, that could create challenges for you. So, I think the ABCA is trying to work, proactively, to make sure that there’s a means in place for coaches to pick up games if they feel that there’s any concern.

Being in the northeastern part of the country, I’m immune to it a little more than somebody who might be in the Midwest or down south or out west. The thing that I’ll throw out there that, again, folks may not necessarily realize, is that the evaluation region that we focus on when we look at regional rankings and things, that’s really one out of four ways that a regional game can be defined. I’m sure you know this already, but, essentially, the four different ways that a game can be considered in-region would be: [1] if it’s somebody that is in your conference; [2] if it’s somebody that’s in your evaluation region; [3] if it’s somebody that’s in one of the four geographic areas that’s defined in the NCAA bylaws. In the case of New England, that expands from Maine all the way down to Maryland; [4] and also if there’s somebody that’s within 200 miles of your campus, that’s also considered a regional game.

So, I think the feeling when this was put in place was that there’s ample opportunity to go out and find regional opponents and play regional opponents. But that being said, any of us that deal with weather in the northern part of the country, we know that sometimes the best laid plans don’t always work out the way that they were intended. So, I think there a lot of opportunities for folks to pick up the games. I think there are some resources that the coaches association is making available to folks, and, hopefully, if people foresee issues, they are at least communicating those to the championships staff and the committee in their respective sports, to make sure that we’re aware of the issues that could be popping up at some point.

RN: Will “a game is a game” do anything to the primary and secondary criteria?

GK: That’s a question that, actually, our committee had when all this conversation has started up. We do have one person on the championships committee who serves as our liaison. They, generally, are the person we go to when we’re trying to understand things a little bit more. It’s my understanding that now all games against Division III opponents will count toward the primary championships criteria.  So, essentially, there are some things that were in the secondary criteria that we may never have had an opportunity to take a look at because the only time you really are supposed to utilize secondaries is when the primaries don’t yield a result.

So, it’s my understanding that a lot of that is now going to get absorbed into the primary criteria. I know with championships, as I said earlier, they are just concluding their meeting and having some other meetings scheduled and some conference calls throughout the year. I’m pretty sure that they’re going to give us all additional instructions and directions as we reexamine our sports-specific criteria for 2013-14. But I think we’re now going to have more information that’s available to us as primary criteria than what we’ve had in the past.

RN: With all the new changes proposed, and the things that are going to be changing, like “a game is a game” and maybe the change to the finals structure, I’m going to give you the chance to have the magic wand again. Now that you’ve had another year on the committee, is there anything feasible that you’d like to see in terms of the D-III baseball championship, from data selection to bracketing to venues to anything?

GK: I think we’re very happy with the championship. I mean, certainly, it would be really nice for us to have more spots to put teams into. Certainly, Division III has access ratios that we are bound to. It would be nice to somehow, at some point, perhaps see those relaxed to maybe a point where we’re able to bring in a number of teams that is, say, a power of two. Rather than have 55, 56, 57, it would be really nice to see us be able to field a 64-team bracket where each regional site is going to have the same schedule, the same number of teams.

I think that’s kind of a pie-in-the-sky desire. I don’t really see that changing. But I think if there were one thing I really had the ability to change, not just for baseball but for all of our sports, that would probably be the one thing that I would like to see. Just to give people more of an opportunity. Just to make sure that everybody that’s getting a berth in the national tournament has an equitable road in terms of the number of days, the number of games. Those are things that I would like to see.

We’ve got a great facility in Appleton. I know that we’re going to be putting out bids for the national tournament at some point in the near future as the agreement we have with them draws to a close. But we’re really excited about seeing the facility improvements that they were talking about last year, that were going to be in place for this year. I think that’s going to be much better for the championship.

I think if our bracket recommendation does get approved, even though we don’t have control over the weather, which is really what we need the magic wand for, I think folks are going to find that it makes for a better experience once their student-athletes get to the finals site.

So, I think we’re in a pretty good place. It’ll be interesting to see how all of these changes, as far as the 70 percent, as far as getting closer to what people call “a game is a game,” I think it’s going to be interesting to see how all that plays out once we get a year of it under our belt. I think that, in general, we’re in a good place. I think things are good. I think you continue to evaluate them and look for changes.

I’m excited that we’re going to some different regional sites because one of the things that we’ve struggled with in recent years is getting a lot of bids to consider. A baseball regional is a long tournament. You have a lot of teams that are coming to and competing on your campus in the same day, with big roster sizes. So, I think it will be nice to get some exposure on some different campuses. It’ll be interesting to see how those experiences work out, but, hopefully, that will encourage other institutions and other municipalities to put in to host.

So, like I said, I think we’re in a good place. We’ve got some changes that are coming that time will tell how those work out. There are things that I would certainly love to see that alluded to earlier, but all in all I think we are in a pretty good place.

RN: Thinking of a related question, maybe outside of the postseason, and inspired by the speech that we all saw [Feb. 12, 2013], could you give a State of the Union Address for D-III baseball as a whole?

GK: I think the state of Division III baseball is good. I think we have a championship that functions well. I think we are trying to make some changes that are going to make it function better. I think we’re starting to see some new teams emerge as regional leaders, which I think is nice to have other institutions get an opportunity to play at a national championship site.

I think our facility is top-notch. I think our regional facilities have gotten better over the years. A lot of the regionals have moved to newer facilities, whether they’re on campus or off campus. We always like to say what we do is all about the student-athlete experience, and, quite frankly, the feedback that we get from the student-athletes, who participate in surveys when they get back to their campuses, is positive.

My 2013 Week 4 ballot (D3baseball.com rank)
Stats, musings and folly valid through March 17

1 (1). Salisbury – Pair of 1-run losses the only blights; Cortland split and Christopher Newport win highlight the resume.

2 (5). St. Thomas – Splits against 3 Midwest contenders; had they swept 1 of them, the Toms have my top vote.

3 (9). St. Joseph’s (Maine) – Eked by Wheaton (Mass.), shut out by streaking Webster; allowed 17 runs in first 9 games.

4 (13). Ramapo – Still bullish despite dropping a 1-run game to Rhodes; Bowdoin sweep shouldn't go underappreciated.

5 (6). Linfield – Looking more and more like your older brother's Wildcats; looming portion of the schedule will tell us for sure.

6 (12). Western New England – A win over top-ranked Cortland helps cover the 2 1-run losses. For now.

7 (3). Cortland State – Like with St. Thomas, not all losses (Salisbury, WNE, Rowan, Spalding) are created equal.

8 (16). UW-Whitewater – Shut out by Illinois Wesleyan, but still has the season-opening dome split with St. Thomas.

9 (2). Trinity (Texas) – 3-2 record against D-III teams currently above .500, 19-4 overall; win over TLU eased concerns.

10 (10). Wheaton (Mass.) – Just 6 runs in 4 losses, but 3 of those were to regional regulars; win over Etta doesn't hurt.

The rest of my ballot: Illinois Wesleyan; Marietta; Webster; Kean; Haverford; Rowan; Heidelberg; Manchester; Millsaps; Huntingdon; St. Scholastica; Cal Lutheran; Neumann; UT-Tyler; Christopher Newport.

I think some of the coverage that we’re getting through entities like D3baseball.com are types of coverage that our sport, in our division, years ago, never got anything like that. Knowing that there are places that people can go to keep up on what’s happening, to follow teams and follow regions, and engage in conversation, I think that makes it a better product for everybody that’s out there. I think one of the things that’s fabulous is that schools don’t have to web stream the regionals. And the championships site, it gives people the opportunity to continue following their friends, their family members when they’re competing. But now, suddenly, they’re doing it a long way off from their home campus. 

So, I think there are a lot of good things that are going on and I think there are some changes in the works that, hopefully, are going to add to the experience for everybody. But like I’ve said a couple of times, I think we’re in a good place. I think the state of our game, at this level, is excellent.

RN: And the obligatory, “Is there anything else you would like to add?” because I think we touched on a lot of the things that are coming, a lot of the things that happened last year, and some of the hot-button issues this year. Is there anything else that we missed?

GK: I think one thing, looking back, that a lot of folks may not necessarily realize is that when we get to our regional sites and we get to our nationals site, we’re trying to do the best that we can to try and keep things as equitable as possible, trying to make sure we’re creating the best possible experience that we can for the student-athletes.

I think anybody that was at Appleton last year knows that there were a lot of challenges with the weather, but I don’t think people necessarily know what goes on when we’re trying to address and plan for those things. So, I want make sure that folks realize that the people that work with us, from a facilities standpoint at all of the regional sites and also when we get to Appleton, are wonderful.

We’ve got a lot of people that are working very hard at a lot of different locations to make sure that our tournaments are moving at the best pace they possibly can, that the playing surface is as good as it possibly be in a situation where the weather is not cooperating, and the local folks in all of those communities, especially Appleton, coming up with practice venues and indoor options for our teams. I think that’s wonderful.

And I think the part a lot of people also don’t really get to see or think about is, when we get in a tough situation like we were last year, we spend a lot of time trying to talk with our coaches, trying to make sure that they are informed with what’s happening and that they’re aware of things that we’ve considered. And, quite frankly, the coaches that we had in Appleton last year were wonderful.

We try to assemble people as a group more so than rely on each committee member reaching out to the team from their region. And I think the coaches appreciated that. I think being kept up to speed on circumstances and decisions that were being made, I think went a long way. When you’re making a tough decision, you’re always worried about “How are the coaches going to react to that?” And I think with having some great coaches that serve on our committee, they give us the perspective of the coaches. I think it helped us to make some good decisions and I think the people that we’re ultimately there to serve, I think they appreciated the work that we put into it. And a lot of that was made possible by them having great attitudes and great understanding when they were at the championship site, so it would be difficult for me to not thank all of those people that help us to move things through and then to make sure things work as well as they can once we get on site.

Between the local organizing committees and the coaches, those are the groups that really make things work as smoothly as they can.

RN: I appreciate you taking the time out, and I thank you for doing so. I know you’re a busy man, so thanks for your time.

GK: Happy to do it.

Next week: The names of Division III baseball.