Boyd's World-> Breadcrumbs Back to Omaha-> I-AA? About the author, Boyd Nation


Publication Date: October 31, 2000

A Smaller Dance

There's an idea that I've been playing with for a while. I'm not sure yet if I'm in favor of it, but this week I want to spin the idea out and see where it goes. I'm increasingly convinced that Division I has just gotten too big to be manageable. My proposal, which I'm currently standing firmly to the side of, is that a Division I-AA similar to the one in football be created.

My understanding is that Division I-AA football was created so that schools which did not have the resources to compete at the top levels could still enjoy the benefits of Division I membership but have a competitive system that allowed them an occasional shot at a national title rather than hoping for the occasional climb to the middle of the pack. It seems to have worked well, as the scheduling has segregated out over the years, improving both I-A and I-AA schedules overall, and the playoff system seems to be well-liked.

The idea was rejected for basketball, less because of competitive reasons but because even a first-round NCAA tournament loss in basketball can be quite lucrative for the school's athletic program, so the existence of automatic bids and conference tournaments can make the occasional big hit pay off for the drubbings of being in the lower end of Division I. This argument doesn't really hold in baseball, since most teams which go two-and-cue break even on the experience financially at best.

In the end it comes down to competitive matters, and that's the decision I'm not sure about yet. Is it better to hope for an automatic bid followed by the occasional miracle against Goliath, like Wisconsin-Milwaukee's win over Rice in 1999 (followed the next day by a 27-1 loss to the same team), or to play against lesser competition for a national title? I'm not sure of the answer to that question, and I think the answer might vary at each school (or, more practically, in each conference), but I'd like to look at a sample setup.

I think that a lot of it comes down to level playing field issues, so that low-EFI teams with problems over resources and weather can compete with teams with similar backgrounds.

The Composition

In football, Division I-AA is slightly larger than Division I-A -- 122 teams versus 114 this year, if I'm figuring correctly. That seems a reasonable place to start.

Of the thirty Division I baseball conferences (I guess the independents would mostly end up in I-AA, but Miami's the only one of them likely to contend for a title in either division), here are the bottom sixteen in last year's conference ISR's:

Some of these are not at all bad conferences, but none of them are really capable of competing with the big boys. I'm not going to argue the merits of any of them in particular, since the makeup of I-AA is not really a sticking point. I suspect that, given sufficient buy-in, it would be left mostly up to the conference to decide. That might mean that the Big South and Southland might stick in I-A in an attempt to move up as the TAAC has the last couple of years, for example. Two of the next three moving up the line are the Big Ten and Big East, the flagships of the NCAA's "boost the Northeast" program, so they probably won't decide to go to I-AA.

As I said, some of these aren't bad leagues at all, with the occasional win over big conference teams to show for it. However, the last time any team from any of these conference went to Omaha in a non-spectator capacity was in 1990 when Georgia Southern and the Citadel made it in.

Part of me thinks that it would be nice for a team which is having their best year in a long time to have the chance to play for a meaningful title. A good example of this would be the 2000 Oral Roberts team, which went 44-15, plowed through their league, and was rewarded by getting fed to a couple of losses to Oklahoma around a win over Delaware. They ended the year somewhere around #59 in the ISR's, good enough to challenge for the I-AA title but nowhere near a competitive level for a single Division I.

A Side Benefit

It would depend on how the scheduling rules were set up to encourage or discourage games between I-A and I-AA teams, but I think there could be a side benefit to this as well. You'll notice that the Mountain West is the only one of the leagues listed above that is at all Western. If I'm correct, getting a lot of the smaller Eastern leagues out of the pool should help to straighten the balance problems that the RPI's have with the different numbers of teams in each region.

A Sample I-AA WS

In an effort to make it a bit more concrete, let's imagine a I-AA tournament for the 2000 season. Let's guess that a 32-team tournament, with 8 4-team regionals, will be a good fit -- that gives us about 20% of the teams in the playoffs, which is about what the NCAA usually aims for (what happens to the size of the I-A tournament is an open question in my mind). After the usual fun of the regionals, we come up with an eight-team I-AA World Series, to be played in Columbus, Georgia, because I like Columbus. Hey, it's my imagination; pick your own site if you like.

Ignoring the likelihood of upsets in the regionals, we get a field that looks something like this (with actual 2000 ISR's in parentheses). After looking at the Southland, with two top forty teams despite some problems at the bottom, I'm sure they wouldn't go for I-AA, so I'm going to go ahead and omit them.

This strikes me as a fairly nice field, all in all. It's reasonably geographically balanced, with a reasonable mix of public and private schools of various sizes, and none of these are bad teams, especially with their ace on the mound. I suspect, given a few years to build a local fan base, it could easily break even, which is about all the NCAA asks the lower divisions to do in their playoffs.

I'm still not sure if I'm in favor of this, but, having written it all out, I do like the way it shapes up. Let me know what you think.

Boyd's World-> Breadcrumbs Back to Omaha-> I-AA? About the author, Boyd Nation