October 30, 2016

AQ's, Pool B and Pool C? What does it all mean?

By Christan Shirk

On the threshhold of the men's and women's NCAA tournaments, terms like AQ's, Pool B, and Pool C are being used by those in-the-know and perhaps leaving new fans and the uninitiated a little lost and confused. For those in the former group, what follows may largely be unnecessary. For the latter group, this article will explain this terminology and walk you through the process by which NCAA tournament participants are determined.

All information about the determination of tournament participants is found in the 2016 Division III Soccer Pre-Championships Manual. Much of what follows highlights, summarizes, or quotes the manual. The tournament format, schedule, and bracketing of teams will not be covered here, but is covered in our introduction to the 2016 NCAA Division III Soccer Championships here.  

Most conferences receive a single automatic berth to the men's and women's tournaments which they may award in the manner they see fit, usually to their conference champions. The remainder of each tournament field is made up of at-large selections made by the Division III men's and women's soccer committees following a prescribed set of criteria. Read on to discover the size of the tournament fields, how many and which conferences receive automatic berths, and how many at-large berths are available and on what basis they are awarded.

Administration / Selection Committees

The NCAA championship tournaments are administrated by the eight-member NCAA Division III Men's and Women's Soccer Committees which are each composed of the chairs of their respective regional advisory committees. These committees make the at-large selections to complete the tournament field, assisted in the evaluation of teams by the Regional Advisory Committees. These are the same national and regional committees which release the pre-tournament weekly NCAA Regional Rankings. The members of these committees can be found on pages 9-13 of the Pre-Championships Manual.

Tournament Field Size

The maximum size of the single-elimination men's and women's tournament fields is established by the Division III Championships Committee which currently prescribes an approximate access ratio of 1:6.5 not to exceed 64 participants, as per Article 31.3.1.1 of the 2016-17 NCAA Division III Manual (pg. 222). The basis for the size of the tournament fields is the number of championship eligible teams, and the men's and women's committees have gained approval for 62- and 64-team tournaments in 2016, as per the Pre-Championships Manual (pg. 16 and 19). This is an increase of one men's team over last year while the women have been at the maximum 64 since 2011. Our math for this year, as shown in the following table, yields 62- and 64-team men's and women's tournaments, matching what has been approved.

2016 Tournament Field Sizes


2015 Eligibility / Access Ratio Field Size
Men 404 eligible teams / 6.5 = 62.2 62 teams
Women 429 eligible teams / 6.5 = 66.0 64 teams

Types of Tournament Berths

Teams eligible for the championship tournament are divided into three pools: Pool A, Pool B, and Pool C, as per Section 2.3 of the D-III Soccer portion of the Pre-Championships Manual (pg. 19).

Classification of championship-eligible teams

  • Pool A - conference selected representatives, one from each conference that meets the requirements for automatic qualification
  • Pool B - independent institutions and institutions that are members of conferences that do not meet the requirements for automatic qualification
  • Pool C - institutions from automatic-qualifying conferences that are not their conference champion and teams not selected from Pool B

Pool A berths are automatic, based on pre-defined criteria set by each qualifying conference for how they will award their automatic berth. Often the berth is awarded to the conference champion, whether determined by regular season finish or by a post-season tournament. However, some conferences determine their champion by regular season finish and hold a post-season tournament to award the automatic berth. AQ is the common short-hand for automatic qualifiers or Pool A berths. (Note: our 2016 Conference Championship Central page indicates whether each tournament determines the conference champion, AQ berth, or both, and includes a table of AQ winners.)

With the termination of men's soccer sponsorship by the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) after the 2014 season, there are currently no conferences which do not qualify for an AQ. There are ten independent men's teams and eleven indepenedent women's teams that are eligible for the NCAA tournament and compose Pool B.

Berths given to teams from Pools B and C are at-large berths. The recipients are selected by the NCAA men's and women's committees following a set of selection criteria and principles discussed in more detail below.  

Allocation of Berths

Forty-two (42) men's conferences and forty-three (43) women's conferences have been granted automatic qualification (AQ) for the 2016 championship tournaments. All conferences with automatic berths are listed on pages 19-20 of the Pre-Championships Manual and in the section below.

The number of at-large Pool B berths is determined by applying an access ratio up to but not to exceed that of Pool A teams. The Pool A access ratio is the total number of eligible teams in AQ conferences divided by the number of AQ conferences. When this ratio is applied to Pool B, the result is traditionally truncated (rounded down to the nearest whole number) to ensure that Pool B access ratio does not exceed that of Pool A.

The number of at-large Pool C berths is simply the number of remaining tournament spots after the Pool A and B berths have been filled. 

According to Section 2.3 of the D-III Soccer portion of the Pre-Championships Manual (pg. 19), the tournament berth allocations for 2016 break down as follows for the men's and women's championships (starting in 2012 the manual stopped showing the calculation of the number of Pool B berths, but our calculations as shown in the table confirm the given distribution). 

2016 Allocation of Berths

Men's Tournament
Pool A No. of Automatic Qualifying Conferences 42 berths
Pool B No. of Pool B teams / Pool A access ratio
10 / (398/42) = 10 / 9.48 = 1.06
1 berth  
Pool C Field size - Pool A berths - Pool B berths
62 - 42 - 1 = 19
19 berths
Women's Tournament
Pool A No. of Automatic Qualifying Conferences 43 berths
Pool B No. of Pool B teams / Pool A access ratio
11 / (421/43) = 11 / 9.79 = 1.12
1 berth  
Pool C Field size - Pool A berths - Pool B berths
64 - 43 - 1 = 20
20 berths

Automatic Qualifying (AQ) Conferences

As per Section 2.3 of the Division III portion of the Pre-Championships Manual (pgs. 19-20), the following conferences have been granted automatic qualification (AQ) for the 2016 championship from Pool A.

Men's AQ Conferences (42)

Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference (AMCC)

American Southwest Conference (ASC)

Capital Athletic Conference (CAC)

Centennial Conference

City University of New York Athletic Conference (CUNYAC)

College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW)

Colonial States Athletic Conference (CSAC)

The Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC)

Commonwealth Conference

Empire 8

Freedom Conference

Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC)

Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC)

Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (IIAC)

Landmark Conference

Liberty League

Little East Conference (LEC)

Massachusetts State College Athletic Conference (MASCAC)

Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA)

Midwest Conference (MWC)

Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC)

New England Collegiate Conference (NECC)

New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC)

New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC)

New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC)

North Atlantic Conference (NAC)

North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC)

North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC)

Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference (NACC)

Northwest Conference (NWC)

Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC)

Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC)

President’s Athletic Conference (PAC)

Skyline Conference

St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC)

Southern Athletic Association (SAA)

Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC)

Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC)

State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC)

University Athletic Association (UAA)

Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC)

USA South Athletic Conference

 

Women's AQ Conferences (43)

Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference (AMCC)

American Southwest Conference (ASC)

Capital Athletic Conference (CAC)

Centennial Conference

City University of New York Athletic Conference (CUNYAC)

College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW)

Colonial States Athletic Conference (CSAC)

The Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC)

Commonwealth Conference

Empire 8

Freedom Conference

Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC)

Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC)

Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (IIAC)

Landmark Conference

Liberty League

Little East Conference (LEC)

Massachusetts State College Athletic Conference (MASCAC)

Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA)

Midwest Conference (MWC)

Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC)

New England Collegiate Conference (NECC)

New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC)

New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC)

New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC)

North Atlantic Conference (NAC)

North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC)

North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC)

Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference (NACC)

Northwest Conference (NWC)

Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC)

Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC)

President’s Athletic Conference (PAC)

Skyline Conference

St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC)

Southern Athletic Association (SAA)

Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC)

Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC)

State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC)

University Athletic Association (UAA)

Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC)

USA South Athletic Conference

Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletics Conference (WIAC)

Our 2016 Conference Championship Central page is tracking the conference tournament results and the awarding of AQ berths here.

At-Large Selection Process

After all the automatic (Pool A) berths have been awarded by the conferences, the men's and women's committees will make their Pool B berth selections followed by their Pool C berth selections. Teams are selected for Pool B and C at-large berths on a national basis, using regional selection criteria (see section below). Beyond the selection criteria, note the following principles concerning at-large selections.

  • To be considered during the at-large selection process (Pool B or C), a team must play at least 70 percent of its competition against Division III in-region opponents.
  • There will be no predetermined regional allocations for Pools B and C.
  • There will be no maximum or minimum number of berths from one region.
  • Institutions participating in conferences that meet the automatic-qualification requirements and are eligible to be selected to a championship via Pool A and/or Pool C, may not elect instead to be selected via Pool B as an independent institution.

At-Large Selection Criteria

The at-large tournament selection criteria are found in Section 2.4 of the Pre-Championships Manual (pg. 21-22). The criteria is divided between primary and secondary criteria, the latter only being considered if the former does not enable a distinction to be made between schools. Thecriteria underwent a significant change prior to the 2013 season when the in-region/out-of-region distinction was abandoned. Previously only games versus "in-region" opponents were consider as part of the primary criteria with secondary criteria considering out-of-region and non-Division III competition. Now, primary criteria considers all Division III opponents while results versus non-Division III opponents (NAIA, NCCAA, Division II, Division I) are considered secondary criteria.

Primary Criteria (not listed in priority order)

  • Win-loss percentage against Division III opponents
  • Division III head-to-head competition
  • Results versus common Division III opponents
  • Results versus ranked Division III teams at the time of selection
  • Division III Strength-of-schedule

Secondary Criteria (not listed in priority order)

  • Non-Division III win-loss percentage
  • Results versus common non-Division III opponents
  • Non-Division III Strength-of-schedule

Regional Rankings Foreshadow At-Large Berths

Regional rankings are done by the same national and regional committees which administrate the championship tournament and make the at-large selections. The rankings are done by applying the same criteria which is used for making the at-large selections, and are released following each of the last four weeks prior to the tournament selections being made. Therefore, by design, the first three weekly rankings are a direct foreshadowing of the at-large selections, providing a certain level of transparency to the at-large selection process and avoiding major surprises when the at-large selections are announced.

Published Final Rankings

The fourth and final rankings, which take into account the completion of conference races and tournaments, serve as the basis for the at-large tournament selections. For the first time in six years, these crucial final rankings will be published and should go a long way to answering many questions about why certain teams were at-large selections and others not. They will be released following the tournament field announcements.

Results versus Ranked Teams

Prior to 2013, a team's results versus ranked teams (one of the primary criteria) was based upon the official clarification in the Manual that "once a team is ranked  . . ., it is always considered ranked."  That was changed starting in 2013 with ranked teams being defined as those teams ranked "at the time of selection" (Pre-Championship Manual, pg. 22), in other words, only the teams ranked the previous week. Therefore, for the final unpublished rankings that will be done at the conclusion of the regular season and conference tournaments, ranked teams refers to those ranked in the third rankings released on Wednesday, November 2.

Strength-of-Schedule

The Strength of Schedule (SOS) used by the Division III soccer committees is based on Opponents' Average Winning Percentage (OWP) and Opponents' Opponents' Average Winning Percentage (OOWP) with home and away multipliers being applied for men’s soccer (since 2011) and women's soccer (starting this year). A multiplier of 0.85 is applied for home games and 1.25 for away games. Neutral site games are unfactored. An explanation with an example of these calculations is found in Appendix D (pg. 45) of the Pre-Championships Manual.

Opponents' Winning Percentage (OWP):

The winning percentage of opponents' cumulative
win-loss-tie record versus Division III competition
excluding the results against the team in question.

Opponents' Opponents' Winning Percentage (OOWP):

The winning percentage of the cumulative win-loss-tie
record of all opponents' opponents.

Strength of Schedule (SOS):

Composed of OWP and OOWP weighted as follows:
2/3 OWP + 1/3 OOWP

Note: This is a change from previous seasons when OWP was the average of each opponent's winning percentage and OOWP was the average of the OWP's of all opponents. It is not clear how the 0.85 home and 1.25 away multipliers are applied now that opponents' individual winning percentages are no longer part of the calculation.

NoteThere is a 40% difference between the home and away multipliers, meaning an away game is worth nearly 50% more than a home game (1.25/0.85 = 1.47). Therefore, travelling to a team with a .550 winning percentage could be worth more to a team's SOS than playing a home game against a team with a .800 winning percentage, depending on the OOWPs.

Definition of In-Region Competition

Starting with the 2013 season, the in-region/out-of-region distinction no longer matters for ranking and at-large selection criteria. However, the NCAA has not removed all encouragement to minimize travel and missed class time as teams are still required to play a minimum of 70 percent of their games against in-region Division III opponents to simply be eligible for at-large tournament selection. So the distinction could still be important for teams that like to fill their non-conference schedule with a good number of opponents from outside their region. But given how broadly in-region competition is defined on page 21 of the Pre-Championships Manual to include much more than just other teams from your defined region (e.g. New England, East, Mid-Atlantic, etc.), this requirement isn't difficult to meet.

An opponent is considered in-region if any one of the following criteria is met:

  • within the same defined region
  • within a 500-mile driving radius
  • within the same membership geographical region defined as follows:

Region 1 - Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont

Region 2 - New York, Pennsylvania

Region 3 - Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia

Region 4 - Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming

  • within the same conference (in a conference scheduled match)
    (note: we add this final criteria because, though not specified in the manual, in practice all matches of multi-region conferences have always been counted as in-region)

 


Comments or feedback for the author? Email Christan Shirk.



CHRISTAN SHIRK

Christan Shirk

 

Christan Shirk is a Messiah College graduate (1993, Civil Engineering) and has been a keen and passionate observer of D-III soccer for over a decade and a half. Never more than a rec-league player himself, Chris brings an analytical approach and nationwide perspective to D3soccer.com. He loves D-III soccer history, statistical number-crunching, and off-the-radar action, all of which he gladly shares with his readers when he's able to find time to write. [see full bio]

Questions or comments?

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Previous
Nov 8: 2018 Tournament Field Factoids
Nov 4: Men's at-large berth analysis and predictions
Oct 27: AQ's, Pool B and Pool C? What does it all mean?
Oct 13: Coming Wednesday: the rankings that matter
Sep 6: Letting go . . . of unfinished business
Sep 3: What's new in 2018
Nov 10: 2017 Tournament Field Factoids
Nov 5: Men's at-large berth analysis and predictions
Nov 3: AQ's, Pool B and Pool C? What does it all mean?
Oct 15: Coming Wednesday: the rankings that matter
Nov 12: 2016 Tournament Field Factoids
Nov 6: Men's at-large berth analysis and predictions
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