October 19, 2011

NCAA Regional Rankings (aka 'The Rankings that Matter')

By Christan Shirk

Today the NCAA Division III men’s and women’s soccer committees will release their first of three weekly regional rankings leading up to “selection Sunday” and the release of the tournament brackets.  Those new to the D-III soccer scene (and maybe some not so new) might be confused about what these rankings are since we already have the NSCAA regional and national rankings and the D3soccer.com national Top 25.  Even though the NCAA includes them on their site, adding to the potential confusion, the NSCAA (note the “S”) rankings are not NCAA rankings but rather rankings done by the National Soccer Coachers Association of America.  You may have heard long-time fans chide that “the NSCAA and D3soccer.com rankings don't mean anything; it's the NCAA rankings that matter.”  And they are right in that the NSCAA and D3soocer.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 the NSCAA 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 nationwide 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 pooh-pooh these rankings as meaningless and chose (or do they just feign?) 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 have a quick look at how they work and why they matter.



The NCAA regional rankings are done by the same national and regional 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, which can be linked to from the NCAA Division III Men's and Women's Soccer Administration pages.  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 9-12 of the Pre-Championship Manual.

Release Dates

As per the Pre-Championship Manual (pgs. 12 and 17), the rankings will be released on the following dates which correspond to the last three Wednesdays prior to the tournament selections being made:

• Wednesday, October 23

• Wednesday, October 30

• Wednesday, November 6

Like the NSCAA 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 men's and women's soccer pages under the "Rankings" tab and right here on our site where they can be found by selecting “Regional Rankings” from the “News” 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 15 percent of eligible teams (or a minimum of four) are ranked by the committees.  As per the Pre-Championship Manual (pg. 17), the number of teams to be ranked in 2013 is as follows:

Men's Rankings

Central Region—6

East Region—9

Great Lakes Region—8

Mid-Atlantic Region—8

New England Region—11

North Region—7

South Atlantic Region—7

West Region—6


Women's Rankings

Central Region—6

East Region—8

Great Lakes Region—8

Mid-Atlantic Region—8

New England Region—12

North Region—8

South Atlantic Region—9

West Region—6

The regional alignments and 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. 27-43)

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. 20).  The criteria is divided between primary and secondary criteria,  the later only being considered if the former does not enable a distinction to be made between schools.  The criteria has undergone a significant change for the 2013 season.  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.  The in-region/out-of-region distinction has been abandoned with primary criteria now considering 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
  • 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



The Strength-of-Schedule 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 but not for women's soccer.   For men's schedules, a multiplier of 0.85 is applied for home games and 1.25 for away games.  Neutral site games are assumed to be unfactored.  An explanation with an example of these calculations is found in Appendix D (pg. 44) of the Pre-Championship Manual.

Opponents' Average Winning Percentage (OWP):

The average of opponents' winning percentages versus D-III competition excluding the results against the team in question.
(For men's teams, winning percentages are factored by 0.85 for opponents played at home and by 1.25 when played away.)

Opponents' Opponents' Average Winning Percentage (OOWP):

The average of the OWP's of all opponents.

Strength-of-Schedule (SOS):

The weighted OWP-OOWP, never specified but deduced to be
2/3 OWP + 1/3 OOWP


Regional Data Sheets

Along with the rankings, regional data sheets 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: win percentage, OWP, OOWP, SOS, and record versus ranked teams.  These sheets allow one 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.

Definition of In-Region Competition

Starting with the current 2013 season, the in-region/out-of-region distinction no longer matters for ranking and at-large selection criteria, and as such it's unknown if in-region records will even be provided in the Regional Data Sheets.  However, teams are still required to play a minimum of 50 percent of their games against in-region Division III opponents to simply be eligible for at-large tournament selection.  Page 19 of the Pre-Championship Manual defines in-region competition which is much broader than just other teams from your defined region (e.g. New England, East, Mid-Atlantic, etc.).

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

  • within the same defined region
  • within a 200-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: though not specified in the manual, in practice all matches of multi-region conferences have been counted as in-region)


"Secret" 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 rankings are not released, so one can only guess at how the final week's results may have prompted changes in the ranking of teams after the third of the scheduled rankings. 




• Since 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 very accurately foreshadowed the eventual at-large selections.  Since their inception in 2003, last year is the only year in which there was more than one real head-scratcher on the men's side with many years having none.

• As such, a team that is not ranked has 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 four years (2007-2010) no men's team that was unranked in the third released rankings got selected.  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 be nearly twice as many Pool C candidates in the rankings as available berths, so it isn't good enough to simply be ranked to make the NCAA's as most regions will have 2 or 3 ranked teams not selected, with the strongest couple regions having just one left out.  In the past two years no region had all their ranked men's teams make the NCAA's.

 • History tells us that little changes in the ranking of teams in that last week, last year being the first time that perception was somewhat challenged.  And that makes sense as one week only represents about 10% of the total schedule.  Also there has been a sense that conference tournament results aren't weighted extra for being most recent and for being conference tournament results, which would be consistent with the primary and secondary criteria.  So do not expect big jumps or falls due to the final week's results (mostly conference tournaments). 

 • Comparison of the in-region data sheets with the rankings has shown in the past that strength of schedule is very important.  The other thing that is important is record against ranked teams.  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 probably is related to S-O-S and results against ranked teams.


Comments or feedback for the author?  Email Christan Shirk.

Jim Matson, Christan Shirk, Ryan Harmanis, and other staff writers and contributors help cover the games and results across the nation.

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