October 13, 2018

Coming Wednesday: the rankings that matter

By Christan Shirk

On Wednesday, October 17, the NCAA Division III men's and women's soccer committees will release the first of their four weekly regional rankings—the first three leading up to and the the last one being the basis for the at-large tournament selections. These rankings are based on the same primary and secondary criteria that will be used for awarding at-large tournament berths. But before getting into that, a more general introduction to the rankings is in order for those new to D-III soccer or those still not clear on the distinction and significance of the different rankings that exist.

By this point in the season, even new fans should be aware of the United Soccer Coaches (USC) regional and national rankings and the D3soccer.com national Top 25, but some might be confused when hearing about the NCAA regional rankings and have questions such as: Are these yet another set of rankings? Why haven't I seen these rankings yet this season? Are they important? Do they matter? Adding to the potential confusion, the NCAA includes the USC national rankings on their website even though they are not rankings done by or for the NCAA. You may think or have heard others say that the USC and D3soccer.com rankings don't mean anything; it's the NCAA rankings that matter. And that is correct in that the USC and D3soccer.com rankings do not play any part in the process of selecting teams for the NCAA championship tournaments; the NCAA's own rankings do as will be explained below.

However, I think it’s unfair to say that the USC and D3soccer.com rankings don't mean anything. They are useful for acknowledging the most successful teams and for fans to discover what schools outside their conference and their region are having great seasons. If done well, they can also give fans a feel for the relative strength of the teams they have seen when put in the national context. That is, they can be educational and informative. But equally they have entertainment value and can spark conversation and debate among fans. D-I basketball fans can banter and argue over the rankings while knowing they do not decide tournament berths, and there's no reason D-III soccer fans shouldn’t as well. Those who are dismissive of these rankings as and chose to ignore them miss the point and miss the fun.

That said, it is the NCAA regional rankings that are a critical piece of the pre-tournament puzzle, so let’s first have a look at how they work and why they matter. Then, at the end of this column, I will share some comments and observations rooted in my experience of closely following and analyzing the regional rankings and at-large tournament selections for over a decade.

NCAA REGIONAL RANKINGS

The NCAA regional rankings are done by the same regional and national committees which will make the at-large selections for the men's and women's NCAA tournaments and the rankings are done by applying the same criteria which is used for making the at-large selections. The rankings are released following the fourth last, third last, and second last weeks prior to the tournament selections being made. Therefore, by design, these rankings are a direct foreshadowing of the at-large selections providing a certain level of transparency to the at-large selection process. It is for this reason that these rankings are so important and meaningful.

All information about the regional rankings is found in the Division III Soccer Pre-Championship Manual. Much of what follows highlights, summarizes, or quotes the manual.

Ranking Committees

The NCAA regional rankings are done 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. The Regional Advisory Committees assist the national committee in evaluating teams.  These are the same national and regional committees which will make the Pool B and Pool C at-large selections for the men's and women's NCAA tournaments. The members of these committees can be found on pages 9-13 of the Pre-Championship Manual.

Release Dates

As per the Pre-Championship Manual (pgs. 13-14 and 18-19), the rankings will be released on the following dates which correspond to the last three Wednesdays prior to the tournament selections being made and the Monday that the at-large selections and tournament fields are announced:

• Wednesday, October 17

• Wednesday, October 24

• Wednesday, October 31

• Monday, November 5

Like the USC and D3Soccer.com rankings, they are based on results through the Sunday prior to their release.

Where to find the Rankings

The rankings are posted by the NCAA on their Division III men's and women's soccer webpages under "Rankings" where you must select the "Regional Rankings" option from the pull-down menu.  They are also conveniently available here on our site from the “Rankings” pull-down menu above or by clicking on the following links:

Men's Regional Rankings

Women's Regional Rankings

Size of the Rankings

The number of teams ranked differs from region to region and from men to women based on the number of eligible teams in each region. The top 16 percent of eligible teams (or a minimum of four) are ranked by the committees. As per the Pre-Championship Manual (pgs. 18-19), the number of teams to be ranked in 2018 is as follows:

Men's Rankings

New England Region—12

East Region—8

Mid-Atlantic Region—10

South Atlantic Region—8

Great Lakes Region—8

Central Region—7

North Region—7

West Region—6

 

Women's Rankings

New England Region—12

East Region—8

Mid-Atlantic Region—9

South Atlantic Region—9

Great Lakes Region—8

Central Region—6

North Region—8

West Region—6

Except for one more men's team being ranked in the Central Region, these are the same numbers as last year.changes from last year. The regional alignments, school sponsorship, and eligibility by region can be found in Appendices B and C (“Men's Sponsorship” and "Women's Sponsorship, respectively) of the Pre-Championship Manual (pgs. 29-45).

Ranking Criteria

The rankings are done by applying the same criteria which is used for making the at-large tournament selections. The at-large selection criteria are found in Section 2.4 of the Pre-Championship Manual (pg. 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. Note: the Non-Division III Strength of Schedule has been dropped as a secondary criterion after five years of use.

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 as established by the final ranking and the ranking preceeding the final ranking
  • Division III strength of schedule

Secondary Criteria (not listed in priority order)

  • Non-Division III win-lost percentage
  • Results versus common non-Division III opponents
  • Division III non-conference strength-of-schedule

Regular season and conference postseason matches are considered.  See the sections that follow for an explanation/clarification of the results versus ranked teams and strength of schedule.

Results versus Ranked Teams

For the purposes of at-large selections, "ranked teams" are now (starting last season) those teams ranked in either the final rankings or the third weekly rankings. However, for the purposes of the weekly regional rankings, "ranked teams" only includes the teams ranked the previous week, not the previous two weeks. Obviously, for the first weekly regional rankings of the season, there is no previous ranking and thus there are no results versus ranked teams.

"Results versus ranked teams" criteria spelled out

For the . . . first weekly rankings:

second weekly rankings:

third weekly ranking:

final rankings:

at-large selections:
 

 

N/A (no previous rankings)

results versus teams ranked in the first weekly rankings

results versus teams ranked in the second weekly rankings

results versus teams ranked in the third weekly rankings

results versus teams ranked in either the third weekly
rankings or the final rankings

Strength of Schedule

The Strength of Schedule (SOS) used by the Division III soccer committees is based on Opponents' Cumulative Winning Percentage (OWP) and Opponents' Opponents' Cumulative Winning Percentage (OOWP). No home and away multipliers will be applied this season as was done from 2011 to 2016 for the men and in 2016 for the women. An explanation with an example of these calculations is found in Appendix D (pg. 46) of the Pre-Championship 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: The calculations changed starting in 2016.  Previously OWP was the average of each opponent's winning percentage and OOWP was the average of the OWP's of all opponents.

Regional Data Sheets

Along with the rankings, data sheets for each region are made available.  These data sheets, which include all teams in each region, provide some (but not all) of the data that was considered by the ranking committee.  The following data is listed: record and winning percentage against Division III opponents, results versus ranked Division III opponents, Division III SOS (primary criteria), and non-Division III winning percentage (secondary criterion).  These sheets allow for a look at the numbers the committees had in front of them and therefore insight into why some teams are ranked and others not. The NCAA provides links to this data below the rankings. Direct links to the latest released data sheets are given below:

Men's Data Sheets

Central Region

East Region

Great Lakes Region

Mid-Atlantic Region

New England Region

North Region

South Atlantic Region

West Region

 

Women's Data Sheets

Central Region

East Region

Great Lakes Region

Mid-Atlantic Region

New England Region

North Region

South Atlantic Region

West Region

The data sheets can also be accessed by clicking the links on our regional rankings pages.

Published Final Rankings

As part of the at-large tournament selection process, the committees do final rankings that include the results from the final week prior to the tournament, usually the completion of conference tournaments. These final rankings are published following the announcement of the tournament fields and may answer many questions about why certain teams were at-large selections and others not.

FORESHADOWING THE AT-LARGE SELECTIONS:

SOME COMMENTS AND OBSERVATIONS

• As just mentioned above, we get to see the fourth and final rankings that are the basis for the committee's at-large selections. These final rankings take into account the final week of games (usually conference tournaments). However, they will only be released after the tournament field—and thus at-large berths—are announced.  Therefore, we will still only have the first three regional rankings in order to anticipate which teams will be selected.

• Because these rankings are done by the same committees that make the at-large selections, using the same criteria as for at-large selections, they (as intended) have in the past very accurately foreshadowed the eventual at-large selections. From 2003, the year of their inception through to 2013, there was only one year (2010) in which there was more than one real head-scratcher on the men's side with many years having none.  2014 was another year in which there were two or three very hard (impossible?) to predict selections, but predictability was restored in 2015. In 2016 there were two hard-to-predict—but not unreasonable—selections that made more sense once we saw the final rankings.  Finally, last year, there was just one completely unpredictable selection.

• As such, a team that is not ranked in the third weekly rankings has virtually no shot at a Pool C berth. You can get your hopes up, but it's just not going to happen if history is any guide. In the past eleven years (2007-2017) no men's team that was unranked in the third weekly rankings (those released the Wednesday before the selections) got selected for the post-season tournament. Way back in 2005 and 2006 it happened once each year, and at least in one of those cases the results of the final week easily explained the unranked team having improved their standing.

• There will probably be just over twice as many Pool C candidates in the rankings as available berths.  For example, last year there were 42 Pool C men's teams in the third rankings but only 19 Pool C berths available.  In the five years before that, the ratio was 41/19, 39/18, 38/18, 44/19 and 38/20. So it isn't good enough to simply be ranked to make the NCAA tournament as most regions will have three to five ranked teams not selected. Even the strongest regions do not have all their ranked teams selected. A team typically needs to be in the top half of their regional rankings to be selected. Depending on how little separates teams, being in the top third of the third weekly rankings may not even make a team a safe bet for an at-large berth as results in the final week could see them fall in the final rankings and land on the bubble or outside of real contention for selection.

• History indicates that the ranking of teams changes little in that last week (between the third weekly rankings and the at-large selections being made). That is, rarely does a lower ranked team in the third weekly rankings get selected ahead of a higher ranked team. Last year there were three instances of this which exceeded the one or two occurences seen most years, but as usual all three instances were easily explained by what occured in the final week before the at-large selections. Gettysburg, who was ranked #4 in the thrid rankings, lost their only game while at-large selection Dickinson, who had been #5, went 1-1-1 in the Centennial tournament and significantly improved their SOS in the process. In the Great Lakes, Capital, who started the week at #6, was selected instead of Carnegie Mellon, who had been #4, after the Tartans lost their only match and had one of their two wins versus ranked teams disappear when WashU fell from the rankings while Capital went 1-1-1 in the OAC tournament, picking up a fourth win versus ranked opponents and significantly closing the gap in SOS between the two teams. Finally out west, with little separating the pack behind front-runner Trinity (Tx.), a 1-1-0 week and a significant increase in SOS helped Texas-Tyler, ranked #4 entering the final week, to get selected ahead of Colorado who had been #2 but lost their lone game and saw their SOS decline slightly.  So, yes, there will be some movement from the third rankings to the final rankings which inform the at-large selections, but not too much which makes sense because the final week only represents about 10% of the total schedule. And there is no evidence that conference tournament results carry any extra extra weight because they are the most recent results nor because they may be considered "big" games, which is consistent with the established selection criteria. So do not expect big jumps or falls due to the final week's results, nor any more than one to three flip-flops in the relative position of Pool C candidates.

• The 2013 change in the definition of a ranked opponent from "once ranked, always ranked" to "ranked at the time of selection" increased the potential for more movement from week to week than previously, but the change prior to last year to "as established by the final ranking and the ranking preceeding the final ranking" should make the at-large selections a little more predictable again. 

• Comparison of the regional data sheets with the rankings (and the eventual at-large selections) has shown over the past decade that the committee highly values strength of schedule. The other criteria that can be deduced to be very important is record against ranked teams, and especially wins over ranked opponents. Losses to ranked teams don't seem to be penalized so much as wins are rewarded. In other words, the committee wants teams to play challenging schedules and doesn't mind if a team drops some of their toughest games as long as they demonstrate in other games that they also can win against top opposition.  So if you do not understand why one team isn't ranked and another team is, or why one team is ranked higher than another, it may be related to SOS and results against ranked teams.

 


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?

»  E-mail Christan Shirk
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
Oct 30: AQ's, Pool B and Pool C? What does it all mean?
Oct 15: Coming Wednesday: the rankings that matter
Sep 10: Week 1 Flybys
Sep 1: What's new in 2016? - Part 2: Rules Changes
Aug 25: What's new in 2016? - Part 1
Nov 11: 2015 Tournament Field Factoids
Nov 8: Men's at-large berth analysis and predictions
Nov 5: AQ's, Pool B and Pool C? What does it all mean?
Oct 15: The rankings that matter are coming next week
Oct 9: 2015 Midseason Flyovers
Oct 4: D3soccer.com Year Nine: State of the Website
Sep 28: Kelsey Graham is named a finalist for NCAA Woman of the Year
Sep 4: D-III soccer represented among Top 30 honorees for NCAA Woman of the Year
Sep 1: Kyle Goodwin, Natalie Caney net season's first goals
Aug 20: What's new for 2015 season?
Jul 23: Division III soccer players get conference nod for NCAA Woman of the Year
Jul 14: Lillie Toaspern pursues pro career with the Chicago Red Stars
Jun 19: Thirty-one Division III soccer players nominated for NCAA Woman of the Year
Apr 30: Alumni game scheduled for Saturday in effort to save Titan soccer
Apr 22: Curtains on UW-Oshkosh men’s soccer?
Nov 20: Getting to know the 2014 men's Sweet 16
Nov 9: Men's at-large berth analysis and predictions
Nov 8: AQ's, Pool B and Pool C? What does it all mean?
Oct 15: The rankings that count are coming next week
Aug 27: What's new in 2014? - Part 2: Rules Changes
Aug 22: What's new in 2014? - Part 1
Nov 22: Getting to know the 2013 men's Sweet 16
Nov 10: Men's at-large berth analysis and predictions
Nov 7: AQ's, Pool B and Pool C? What does it all mean?
Nov 6: The most important rankings of the year
Oct 23: New criteria debuts in today's NCAA Regional Rankings
Sep 28: Two streaks end while another one continues
Sep 15: Week 3 Flybys, weekend edition
Sep 15: Week 3 Flybys, weekend edition
Aug 29: What's new in 2013?
Nov 14: Welcome to the Sweet 16, Part 2: the Men
Nov 13: Welcome to the Sweet 16, Part 1: the Women
Nov 4: At-large berth analysis and predictions
Nov 3: AQ's, Pool B and Pool C? What does it all mean?
Oct 1: Dear Men's Top 25 Voters
Sep 22: Week 4 Flybys, weekend edition
Sep 21: Week 4 Flybys, midweek edition
Sep 17: Week 3 Flybys
Sep 4: Labor Day Weekend Flybys
Sep 3: New rules, new conference, name changes
Aug 31: 2012 Preseason Flybys (INCOMPLETE)
Nov 14: Hellooooo Neumann!
Nov 13: A Super Saturday to like and dislike
Nov 6: At-large berth analysis and predictions
Nov 4: So what's this talk about AQ's, Pool B and Pool C?
Oct 24: Week 8 Flyby Distractions
Oct 19: NCAA Regional Rankings (aka 'The Rankings that Matter')
Oct 17: Week 7 Flybys, Conference Edition
Oct 14: Midseason stars and surprises
Oct 8: Week 6 Flybys, weekend edition
Oct 6: Week 6 Flybys, midweek edition
Oct 1: Week 5 Flybys, weekend edition
Sep 29: Week 5 Flybys, midweek edition
Sep 26: Did you know?
Sep 19: Who's top dog after 3 weeks?
Sep 10: Friday Notes, Weekend Questions
Sep 2: Off with a bang!
Sep 1: Preseason perspectives
Sep 1: After 17 years, trailblazer calls it a day