Breaking down the at-large teams

Mitch Ruh and Augustana battled to within a run, twice, of reaching the playoffs, but failed. And here's why they were left out.
Augustana athletics photo by Steve Woltmann


By Pat Coleman

Every year brings a lot of discussion about who received the precious few at-large spots to the NCAA Tournament, and the inevitable fan (and player/coach/team official) complaints about why their team wasn’t selected.

It used to be that the NCAA committee would announce the picks on a conference call, and would have to field questions from media and teams. That no longer takes place, so it’s not as easy for people to get answers. However, we have all of the data the NCAA committee used, and we have final regional rankings, so it’s often possible to reverse engineer how the process went. This is how we suspect the 13 at-large teams were selected in the manner they were.

Remember that the primary criteria for Division III playoff seeding and selection are:

  • Win-loss percentage against Division III opponents.
  • Division III head-to-head competition.
  • Results versus common Division III opponents.
  • Results versus ranked Division III opponents as established by the (NCAA's regional) rankings at the time of selection.
  • Division III strength of schedule.
  • Win-loss percentage — last 25% of the season (if applicable).
We’ll take a look at all the teams that were selected, then the last seven left on the table who were not picked.

Southern Maine

The Huskies were a non-controversial pick after going 30-10 in Division III games, for a .750 winning percentage, with a .566 strength of schedule. If it were even necessary to note, Southern Maine was 10-6 against regionally ranked opponents, with wins vs. St. Thomas, Ramapo, DePauw, St. Joseph (Maine), Babson, a 1-1 record vs. Mass-Boston, a 3-0 mark vs. Eastern Connecticut. Other losses were to UW-La Crosse, UW-Whitewater, Endicott and Wheaton (Mass.), twice.


The Red Dragons were a non-controversial pick. They went 33-7 (.825) vs. Division III, with a .559 strength of schedule. (Having the SUNYAC tournament rained out meant that Cortland or Brockport – or Oswego – didn’t even pick up two extra losses.) Cortland went 11-6 vs. regionally ranked opponents: 2-0 vs. Salisbury, 2-0 vs. Case Western Reserve, and 1-0 vs. Arcadia, Ithaca, Randolph-Macon and Washington & Lee. They split two games with Castleton, went 1-2 vs. Brockport and 1-2 vs. Oswego State and 0-1 at Johns Hopkins.


The Panthers were a non-controversial pick as well. Birmingham-Southern went 36-8 vs. D-III, an .818 winning percentage, and had a .568 SOS. The Panthers were 10-5 vs. regionally ranked teams. That includes a 2-0 mark vs. LaGrange, 2-0 vs. Washington U., 4-2 vs. Rhodes and 2-1 vs. Concordia (Texas). B-SC also lost single games to Adrian and Emory.

Shenandoah Shenandoah

The Hornets’ slate looks very similar to Birmingham-Southern and made Shenandoah an easy pick as well. SU was 36-8 (.818) with a .555 SOS. Shenandoah was 14-4 vs. regionally ranked teams: 3-0 vs. Case Western Reserve, 3-0 vs. Roanoke, 2-0 vs. La Roche, 2-0 vs. Misericordia and 1-0 vs. Elizabethtown. Shenandoah was 2-1 vs. Randolph-Macon 1-2 vs. Washington & Lee, and 0-1 vs. Salisbury.

SJF St. John Fisher

The previous four were the easy picks, but to be honest, St. John Fisher wasn’t too difficult to select, either. The Cardinals were 30-10 (.750) with a .559 SOS. They went 7-8 against regionally ranked opponents. Those results: 2-0 vs. Brockport, 1-0 vs. Otterbein, 1-0 vs. Marietta, 1-1 vs. Johns Hopkins, 1-1 vs. Ithaca, 1-2 vs. RIT. The Cardinals also had losses to Concordia-Chicago, Suffolk, TCNJ and Misericordia. This wasn’t as much of a slam dunk as the previous picks, but a high winning percentage, SOS above .520 or so and a slate of 15 games vs. regionally ranked opponents made the decision still pretty easy.

Wheaton (Mass.) Wheaton (Mass.)

The Lyons were a classic low winning-percentage, high strength of schedule selection. (And that’s a refrain you’ll hear again.) Wheaton went 23-14, for a .622 winning percentage, all against Division III opponents. The Lyons’ SOS was .586 and they went 10-12 vs. regionally ranked teams. That consisted of wins vs. St. Scholastica, Ramapo, Washington U., Southern Maine twice. Wheaton split two games with St. Thomas, split two with WPI, went 1-2 vs. MIT and 1-4 vs. Babson. They were 0-1 vs. Eastern Connecticut, Rowan and Webster. (Wheaton went 10-2 against everyone else on their schedule.)

Remember that the criteria says “results versus ranked Division III opponents” – it does not say “winning percentage” or “wins” vs. ranked D-III opponents. A loss is still a result and this wording gives the committee latitude to recognize that playing 22 of your 37 games vs. regionally ranked opponents is a good thing, even if you lose some of those games.

UW-La Crosse UW-La Crosse

This team is very much like the team that preceded it on the list. The Eagles were 28-17, for a .622 winning percentage, with a .584 SOS. UW-La Crosse had slightly less success vs. regionally ranked opponents, but 7-11 is still a decent total, especially when you remember that that includes a 1-6 mark against UW-Whitewater, who few teams beat, especially teams on the board for at-large consideration. Aside from UWW, UW-La Crosse was 1-0 vs. Southern Maine, 1-0 vs. Concordia-Chicago, 1-0 vs. Ramapo, 1-0 vs. TCNJ and 1-1 vs. St. Thomas and St. John’s. The Eagles had losses to Webster and St. Scholastica (twice).

One win against UWW and wins vs. Southern Maine and CUC help bolster this playoff resume. Since the criteria says “results” vs. regionally ranked opponents, the committee also has latitude to understand that not every regionally ranked opponent is the same. Often the committees consider games vs. teams higher in the regional rankings to be more valuable, and it seems likely that happened here as well.

Concordia (Texas) Concordia (Texas)

The committee hasn’t typically looked favorably on at-large teams out of the American Southwest Conference, often because the non-conference schedule is either limited in scope or in quality. But the Tornados put a new twist on that, getting in as an at-large with a 28-13 record vs. Division III (.683) and a .562 SOS. Concordia was also 5-6 vs. regionally ranked opponents: 2-0 vs. Concordia-Chicago, 1-2 vs. UT-Tyler, 1-2 vs. Birmingham-Southern and 1-2 vs. East Texas Baptist.

That’s four wins vs. teams 1 or 2 in a regional ranking. ETBU fans making the comparison between Concordia and ETBU should keep in mind that Concordia entered the final week ranked ahead of ETBU and ETBU didn’t win a game in the final week, meaning there was little reason for ETBU to jump ahead of Concordia. Winning two of three vs. Concordia is a very small advantage across a 41-game or 43-game Division III season and it didn’t make up for the .035 differential in SOS. (And yes, that’s a significant margin.)

Webster Webster

The Gorloks were 29-13 vs. Division III, with a .690 winning percentage. They had a .537 SOS and were 7-6 vs. regionally ranked opponents. Tournament regulars and former Appleton participants, Webster knows the SLIAC doesn’t do it many favors come NCAA selection time and goes out and gets games vs. strong opponents. That mark includes a 1-0 mark vs. Wheaton (Mass.), Rhodes, UW-La Crosse, Washington U. and Concordia-Chicago. The Gorloks were 2-1 vs. Greenville and lost single games to UW-Whitewater, Wartburg, TCNJ, St. Scholastica and Marietta.

If you’re in a conference that doesn’t typically get at-large bids, this is the way you want to schedule. Almost every team on this list for Webster is a quality program year-in and year-out. Webster needed that much just to get to .537.

St. Thomas

We’ll end up saying just about the same things about the Tommies that we did about UW-La Crosse. The record, at 26-16, is just about the same, with a .619 winning percentage. But UST had a .587 SOS. St. Thomas went out and scheduled like Webster, except that it also had the MIAC schedule to boost its SOS as well. St. Thomas was 8-11 vs. regionally ranked opponents: 3-0 vs. St. John’s, 1-1 vs. St. Scholastica, 1-1 vs. Wartburg, 1-1 vs. UW-La Crosse, 1-1 vs. Wheaton (Mass.), and 1-2 vs. Bethel. The Tommies were also 0-2 vs. UW-Whitewater and lost single games to Southern Maine, Washington & Jefferson and Babson.

Yes, a lot of these games aren’t wins. But many of them are, and a win vs. Wartburg, No. 2 in the Central, is helpful. The St. Thomas-Bethel comparison will come further down in this piece.


The Crusaders have been sitting on the board throughout. And at 28-13-2 (.674, for those of you who struggle with ties) and a .529 SOS, they don’t jump off the page at anyone. At 6-4-1 vs. regionally ranked opponents, they made an interesting candidate as well. As we discussed in our playoff projection, that total comes against Widener (3-1), Arcadia (2-3) and Rutgers-Newark (1-0-1). That doesn’t give them any real points of comparison against other teams on the board, which helped them languish as well. Arcadia was No. 2 in the Mid-Atlantic, but Widener was No. 9 and Rutgers-Newark was No. 12.

Basically, we think Alvernia got in because of the voting system. Eventually Alvernia worked its way up enough ballots after 10 previous rounds or so that it got in the field.


We think DePauw was probably in a similar situation. They were the first team on the board from the Mideast and at 31-10 (.756) and a .529 SOS, they had a middle-of-the-road resume for both of those categories. DePauw was 9-5 vs. regionally ranked opponents, but that’s against the following:

No. 1 Mideast Wooster, 0-2
No. 2 New England Southern Maine, 0-1
No. 6 Central Greenville, 3-1
No. 7 Mideast Denison, 3-1
No. 9 South Rhodes, 1-0
Oberlin, 2-0 (was ranked No. 13 in previous ranking, which was used on Selection Sunday)

There’s a big divide there, which is what kept them from getting into the field in our projection. But teams on the board a long time in the real selection process eventually roll up ballots and get in.


The Profs don’t even get to the board before Alvernia gets selected, even though we would have selected them along with similar teams further up. Rowan was 28-16 (.636) with a .558 SOS and a 9-9 record vs. regionally ranked opponents.

Rowan was 1-0 vs. Wheaton (Mass.), 1-0 vs. Salve Regina, 2-1 vs. Randolph-Macon, 2-1 vs. Rutgers-Newark, 1-1 vs. St. Scholastica, 1-2 vs. Ramapo, 1-2 vs. TCNJ, 0-1 vs. Salisbury and Mass-Boston. This reads like a St. Thomas resume, just a couple clicks shy. They would have gotten in ahead of Alvernia if placed on the board.

These were the teams selected.

Those who were left at the table: Augustana, Denison, Bethel, St. Joseph’s (Maine), Brockport, Washington & Lee and Chapman. (Teams which received some discussion on Twitter but were never even at the table include Mount Union and East Texas Baptist.) Let’s take a look:

Why Augustana (30-14, .682, .525 SOS, 6-7 vs. RRO) didn’t get in: Augustana wasn’t on the board for very long and the .525 SOS didn’t compare favorably to others who were selected. Also key in this discussion, Augustana has a head-to-head win vs. Bethel.

Why Bethel (33-10, .767, .522 SOS, 6-3 vs. RRO) didn’t get in: The 6-3 mark is a nice winning percentage but this was fewer results than anyone who did get in as an at-large. Bethel played one game combined against St. Scholastica, Wartburg, UW-Whitewater and UW-La Crosse, and while those were not the only regionally ranked teams in the area, it’s indicative of the type of schedule Bethel played. The Royals didn’t play Wheaton (Mass.), Concordia-Chicago, or any of the teams listed on multiple entries above. They did win their game vs. Wheaton (Ill.), took two of three from St. Thomas, swept three from St. John’s and lost one to St. Scholastica. But also, with comparable resumes, Bethel wouldn’t get in the field until Augustana did.

Why Brockport (23-16, .590, .554 SOS, 5-8 vs. RRO) didn’t get in: That winning percentage, man. Below .600 was almost certainly a deal-breaker. And in order to raise that even a little, they’d have had to win three games in the SUNYAC tournament, which was washed out because of rain.

Why Chapman (26-14, .650, .537 SOS, 8-7 vs. RRO) didn’t get in: With a winning percentage that low, Chapman needed a better strength of schedule, but didn’t have it. Two wins vs. Linfield (No. 4 West) were the best spots on the Panther resume.

Why Denison (29-12, .707, .554 SOS, 6-7 vs. RRO) didn’t get in: They surely weren’t on the board long, and that’s because DePauw was late to get in the field. Losing three of four to DePauw, then going two-and-out in the NCAC tournament sealed the Big Red’s fate.

Why St. Joseph’s, Maine, (31-8, .795, .508 SOS, 7-3 RRO) didn’t get in: You have to be trying really hard to avoid playing the teams in New England who will boost your SOS. Compare the .509 SOS to anyone else we talked about in New England or anyone else who was on the table and you’ll see why this was a non-starter.

Why Washington & Lee (28-14, .667, .538, 4-9 RRO) didn’t get in: We talked about there being value in the sheer number of results vs. regionally ranked teams, but there’s a point at which you haven’t won enough of them. Wherever that point is, W&L was probably on the wrong side of it.

Those were likely the seven teams left at the table when the last at-large team was selected. Here are some other candidates that generated discussion.

Why East Texas Baptist (29-14, .674, .527, 3-8 RRO) didn’t even get to the table: We’re probably having the same discussion about lack of success vs. regionally ranked teams. Beating Concordia (Texas) two out of three is not a playoff resume.

Why Mount Union (31-11, .738, .520 SOS, 4-7 RRO) didn’t even get to the table: Alvernia and DePauw each got in, very late in the process, with SOS marks of .529. Several teams on the table with lower SOS marks did not get in, and Mount Union did not even get to the table because it was stuck behind Denison. The Purple Raiders did have one win (in four tries) against Mideast No. 5 Otterbein, and was 1-1 vs. Mideast No. 4 Washington & Jefferson, but those were the best wins.

Next season we will get two more playoff teams, and the bubble will move, but that will only push the discussion to teams which are further down the list.