Historic finish; unexpected results

By Audrey Miller

For the first time in history, the well-respected Central Region with multiple nationally-ranked teams did not get a single at-large bid.

This past weekend was a whirlwind of activity and emotions for the women’s cross country team—and the higher the high, the harder the fall. After achieving the highest finish a Loras women’s team has obtained in a regional meet since 1997, the women were denied a spot at the 2019 NCAA DIII national championship.

The rules for the regional cross country championship are as follows: multiple conferences come together in larger regional competitions, the top two teams in each region auto-qualify for the national championships, and 16 additional teams from across the nation receive at-large bids to the national championships.

However, the NCAA selection committee’s at-large bid decisions are much less simple than that, and these complications were not brought to light until they resulted in three deserving teams to be wrongly placed on the national stage.

“The committee wouldn’t take into account our wins against nationally ranked St. Thomas and St. Olaf, and instead, we’re stuck on the head-to-head loss we had against Occidental College at a meet five weeks ago,” said assistant coach Ethan Adlfinger. “We were gridlocked from something five weeks ago and, unfortunately, a terrific team run and well-timed taper for the region championships – beating nationally ranked, quality programs – couldn’t undo that earlier loss or bring in both Occidental and Loras into the national meet in the eyes of the committee.”

In the Central Region, four teams have been consistently nationally ranked during the season: Carleton, Wartburg, St. Thomas, and St. Olaf. On Saturday, Loras’ women upset both St. Thomas and St. Olaf at the end of the meet. The team assumed the selection committee would look favorably on all three teams and give three at-large bids to the Central Region. A situation like that would not be unprecedented, as the Central Region is historically strong.

However, on Nov. 17 — Selection Sunday for DIII cross country — the Loras College women’s cross country team learned they did not receive an at-large bid to the national meet, meaning that two highly-ranked teams were not selected. Since Loras beat both St. Thomas and St. Olaf in the regional competition on Saturday, neither team got a bid.

Further complicating the issue this year, the Central Region—which encompasses the American Rivers Conference—was denied a representative on the NCAA selection committee. This means that the Central Region did not have a voice on the committee, unlike the other seven regions. As concerned coaches began looking into the politics of how this could have happened, they discovered that even the selection committee itself is not constructed in the most neutral way possible. Of the “eight” regional representatives, only three are cross country coaches. Otherwise, two are track coaches, one is an athletic director, one is an assistant conference commissioner, and one spot was left unfilled–the Central Region’s representative.

While Adlfinger touches on the reasons the NCAA committee did not grant Loras an at-large bid to the national meet, more information came to light following the decision. Some East Coast teams, who were well-represented on the NCAA committee and who had similar seasons to the Loras’ women’s team, did make the cut into the national meet.

“Ithaca is going to the National Championships after finishing third in the Atlantic Region, which is fine; we thought they would go because, like us, they ran well at Regionals,” said head coach Bob Schultz. “However, also like us, they did not race great two weeks before conference. That same weekend we got 10th in Ohio, Ithaca got 13th in Connecticut. That’s the same place as us in their region, but they lost to five teams not in the National Championship, whereas we lost to four teams not in the National Championship. I have obviously already shared this with the NCAA who I’ve exchanged emails with and am still waiting on a reply to this latest revelation about Ithaca.”

Running sports have the unique ability to be more objectively scored than other sports: time and place are very black-and-white and are difficult to argue against. However, the way the current NCAA selection committee has chosen at-large qualifying teams is a lot more gray. Subjective decisions, based on subjective national rankings, are ultimately what dictates which teams move on to the annual national championship meet. But rising support from teams across the nation have brought notice to the way Loras was shortchanged in the national rankings.

At the end of the day, the silver lining was the outpouring of support from the Loras community and other Division III teams, both in our conference and beyond. Conference teams such as Coe, Simpson, University of Dubuque, Wartburg, and Luther not only offered words of support but went above and beyond to remedy the situation. Wartburg’s head coach Ryan Chapman reached out to the committee to find out the rationale behind the decision to leave Loras out and to find if there was any way to revert the decision. Chapman was the coach who had been denied access from the NCAA committee in the first place, leaving the Central Region without a representative. Luther’s head coach, Yarrow Pasche began drafting a new proposal for the way the at-large bids should be divvied up between regions. She plans on bringing this proposal to the December NCAA meeting, which will not change the 2019 committee results, but may help teams like Loras and Luther in the future when it should count.

“First I want to say how proud I am of our women’s team,” said head coach Bob Schultz. “Regardless of what a conference call of coaches from outside our region decided, it doesn’t take away from the fact that this was the greatest women’s team performance in my fifteen years as coach of the Duhawks.”

While most of the women’s seasons have wrapped up with the NCAA selection committee’s decision to omit the Duhawks from the national meet, the program did have two individual qualifiers Rosenbum and Miller, who will race in Louisville, KY, on Saturday, Nov. 23. Tune in to watch the two Duhawks fight for their team.

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Audrey Miller is a writer for The Lorian.

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