CAA reduces playoff teams

By By Nate Owen, News Staff

On a cold and clear night last November, hundreds of fans witnessed a thrilling victory by the women’s soccer team over Harvard in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the result of an unlikely run as the sixth seed in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) championship.
Now, a chance to repeat that run has become impossible, as the CAA has reduced the number of playoff teams from six to four in men’s and women’s soccer, baseball, field hockey and volleyball starting next season.
In the CAA, both men’s and women’s soccer field 12 teams, while baseball has 11, volleyball 10 and field hockey nine, said Athletics Director Peter Roby.
The changes were made in response to the struggling economy, he said.’
‘It just speaks to how tough of an economy we’re in,’ he said. ‘There’s a lot of sacrifices going on, so I think the feeling within the conference was what can we do to contribute to the sacrifices that others are making.’
He added that the changes are not necessarily permanent and would be revisited if the economy improved.
Roby said that as a conference, the CAA had been exchanging information about the cost of doing business for the last six or eight months, but didn’t vote on the matter until the conference’s 12 athletic directors met in Richmond during the men’s basketball tournament in March.
‘I don’t think there was anybody who came to the Richmond meeting that hadn’t put a lot of time and thought into where we were and a result, a lot of people were and a result, a lot of people were already having to make some tough choices on their own campuses in regards to budget reductions,’ Roby said
No changes were made to men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, which currently feature all 12 schools participating, but Roby said that will likely be addressed during the summer.
Roby said some of the information provided at the meeting indicated that the number of five and six seeds that won the tournament were small, which made the conference’s athletic directors more comfortable in making the changes. But, he added that Northeastern broke that trend last fall when women’s soccer won the CAA championship as a sixth seed, and men’s soccer came within an overtime goal of winning the championship as a fifth seed.
Roby said he voted against the proposal because of this, as well as the limited resources several NU programs have in terms of scholarships compared to other schools in the conference. He said that of the league’s 12 athletic directors, around eight were in favor and, including himself, four either voted no or abstained.
CAA commissioner Tom Yeager could not be reached for comment.
‘I think that this decision was made hastily,’ said baseball head coach Neil McPhee. ‘We don’t know this for certain but [the CAA baseball coaches] heard that it wasn’t made with much process involved.’
For women’s soccer coach Ed Matz, the news was devastating, he said.
‘We told our players a couple of weeks ago. They’re upset about it,’ he said.
‘ Matz said no warning of the changes was given to the coaches.
‘At the CAA meetings in January, not a word of it was said to us,’ Matz said. ‘I think the athletic directors should have came to us and said ‘you guys come up with a way or else we’re going to do this.’ I know that for a couple of weeks after it happened, there were several e-mails a day from women’s soccer coaches trying to come up with ways to save money and trying to talk to the athletic directors, but apparently it’s final.’
Had the coaches known ahead of time, they could have tried to implement their own cost-saving measures. like using local referees or switching the times of the conference semifinal matches so teams wouldn’t have to stay overnight, Matz said.
‘ ‘The athletic directors have said that in these economic times, it’s a cost saving measure but yet the baseball coaches in the conference have come up with any number of various ways to reduce costs,’ McPhee said.
He said the coaches discussed eliminating several midweek games and reducing the number of umpires from three to two. He said Northeastern made efforts to reduce its travel budget as well.
‘This year we bused to James Madison and that saved us over $5,000,’ he said.
The reduction of the number of playoff teams might actually wind up costing the CAA money in baseball, McPhee said.
‘The conference has already indicated to us during the two conference calls we’ve had that they will lose about $25,000 because of reducing the tournament play in baseball. We won’t get bids on a four team conference [playoff],’ he said. ‘UNC-Wilmington has hosted the conference playoffs for a number of years. They’ve already indicated they will not bid on a four team tournament.’
Baseball will also have a different scheduling format next season. Instead of playing a single game on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the CAA will play two nine inning games on Saturday and a game Sunday. McPhee said this will affect recruiting, as well as the pitching staff to a certain degree. But more importantly, there is an increased potential for rainouts with the new schedule.
He said with the four-team playoff system, CAA baseball coaches would like to return to playing 10 conference weekend series. This is first season teams have played eight conference series.
Outside of economics, reducing the the number of playoff teams hurts the overall experience of each school’s athletes, Matz and McPhee said.
‘I think we were one of the only [lower seeded] teams to win a championship,’ Matz said. ‘But what about all the kids that got to compete in postseason play? Basically the CAA is eliminating that opportunity for hundreds of kids each year across the board in several sports. Teams are going to be eliminated earlier and earlier, and we’re talking not that large amount of money [that is being saved], probably $10,000 or $15,000 per school.’
McPhee agreed.
‘We get talked to and preached to and I agree with the position of the administration to provide a positive athletic and educational experience to the students in your program for the four years that they participate,’ McPhee said. ‘By far and away the most positive experience any athlete can have is when they participate in tournament play. To reduce the potential of teams to do that I think just flies in the face of that philosophy of giving a student athlete that positive experience.’
‘ Matz said with the new playoff system, his team would have been eliminated Oct. 19 with three games left. With the new format, McPhee said it’s possible that many teams will be eliminated from playoff contention halfway through the season.
‘ ‘Playing the last four or five weeks of a season when you’re not playing for anything is just a horrible thought in my mind,’ he said. ‘The players get discouraged and all kind of negatives result from that.’
For volleyball, the reduction of playoff teams means that an already competitive league gets harder. Because not every team plays each other an equal amount of time during the season, the difficulty of each team’s schedule can vary greatly, head coach Ken Nichols said.
‘Every year someone is going to get the worst schedule and someone is going to get the easiest schedule,’ he said. ‘God help you if you have tough injuries and a tough schedule. There are a lot of well funded and extremely well coached programs in the CAA.’
Nichols said that if the seventh and eighth place teams were allowed to play in the tournament, they’d have the potential to do just as well as some of the other teams.
The concerns of Northeastern’s coaches aren’t lost on Roby.
‘ ‘I think there’s some fairness to [their comments],’ Roby said. ‘Anybody that’s impacted by something negatively is always going to wish they had a chance to be at the table to offer’ up some solutions to it. I think what everybody has to understand is that we are not dealing with typical circumstances. … We maybe haven’t an economic climate like this since the 1930’s.’
But this isn’t any consolation to the coaches impacted by the changes.
‘ ‘It hinders the experience of the student athletes more then it helps them,’ said men’s soccer coach Brian Ainscough. ‘And for a so-called small amount of money, it doesn’t seem to make sense.’

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