There are 41 golf teams competing for the Division III national championship. Competing in the field this year are 8 teams ranked outside of the top 100, 16 teams ranked outside of the top 50, and 23 teams ranked outside of the top 25. The highest ranked team featured in the field comes in at 181st in the country.
The 15th-ranked team, Rhodes College, received an at-large bid – they were voted in – but the 14th ranked team, Texas Lutheran, did not receive the bed and since they compete in a conference without an AQ (automatic qualifying) they were excluded. Why? It is hard to know for sure.
The question is not, should the team ranked 181st deserve to compete – they won their conference and therefore automatically qualified – congratulations…but it’s the other side that needs some explanation. How can a team (Texas Lutheran) ranked 14th be omitted from competing for the national title. In fact, how can seven teams inside the top 25 not get an invitation to the national championship.
Piedmont College, who started the year ranked 185th in the country, ascending to 58th, is one of those teams not featured in this year’s tournament, and according to head coach Michael McMunn, “we do not deserve to be in the tournament, not yet at least, we have not played well enough to get invited.” The University of Alabama graduate has the “American” attitude, reflecting a performance-based criteria. “In this country, we stand behind performance. Nobody gets a free lunch or a handout unless they deserve it,” says Paul Cleveland, associate professor of economics at Birmingham-Southern College, another school who did not make the tournament, but has no legitimate claim to compete in the championship.
The question that should be pondered: Is the system that produces the list of 41 teams fair to all those who truly deserve that privilege? Or does it allow teams to sneak in under the AQ system, while leaving teams like Texas Lutheran, California Lutheran, Concordia, and Trinity – all which compete in the most competitive fields – displaced from the national tournament by a system of automatic qualifying with no regional confirmation?
The general sentiment at this year’s coaches conference in Las Vegas was that the extra competition required for regional championships would be a financial burden on the NCAA, as well as requiring top-ten teams to reconfirm their invitation. But since the non-profit organization accrued somewhere around $1 Billion in proceeds from the March Madness tournament, such an outlay of funds would be minimal and a step towards ensuring that all Division III golfers and coaches are held accountable for the success of their programs against a competitively curated field, so that the teams who arrive to compete for the national title are the top 41 teams in the country.