Coming Wednesday: the rankings that matter
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...[read more]