Two for the Price of One Today: Regional Rankings & Rule Changes
Thoughts on NCAA Regional Rankings
The home stretch of the regular season is upon us with the release of the NCAA regional rankings. Christan Shirk wrote another comprehensive article on it, but the bottom line is that these rankings determine who receives at-large bids to the NCAA tournament. A few brief thoughts:
Stay Calm. This is only the first week, and the rankings do not include teams’ record versus ranked opponents. That metric is key for NCAA selections, so expect changes when it comes into play next week.
Strength of Schedule. The NCAA thankfully removed the home/away multiplier, so this metric should be easier to forecast. The committee has always rewarded teams that play difficult schedules, but only if they win some of those games. A combination of ranked wins plus a decent strength of schedule is the best route to the NCAA tournament—aside from an automatic bid, of course.
Ignore the Noise. Barring total collapse, a few teams (Messiah, Tufts, Rowan, etc.) have wrapped up at-large bids. Everyone else has work to do. But coaches and players should just ignore the rankings right now. Every team still controls its own destiny, whether to beat ranked teams and increase their profile, or to simply win the conference tournament and make the at-large rankings irrelevant. In this case, at least, winning solves everything.
Rule Changes: Eliminating the Long Throw-In
You hear many positive comments after a soccer game. “We played well.” “Great goal!” “That was exciting.” One comment I bet you’ve never heard: “I wish we’d had a few more long throw-ins.” If I had my way, you’d never see one again.
If you’re a neutral or cheering for the defending team, you know that flash of annoyance. The game stops for any throw on the attacking side of midfield. Centerbacks slowly jog into the box. The left fullback jogs over to the right wing to take the throw. Forty-five seconds later, he flings the ball into the box. Most of the time, it’s cleared or the referee calls a foul. Sometimes, the ball hits the ground and twelve players hack at it in the college edition of “bumblebee soccer.” Every so often something even more odd happens, like the ball going straight into the goal or bouncing off a defender’s foot and in.
I dislike long throw-ins for four reasons:
First, they kill a game’s flow. Usually, only one player has a long throw-in, and he’s nowhere near the ball when it goes out. If your average long throw takes an extra thirty seconds to set up, and a team has ten to twenty a game, long throws lower “actual play” time by five to ten minutes. And that’s if only one team has a long throw. Games lose their rhythm when teams constantly take long throw-ins.
Second, long throws knock the game itself out of balance. Not in the sense that it’s unfair for only one team to have a long throw—it’s like any other advantage. Rather, a long throw can be just as dangerous as a corner kick, but it’s much easier to come by. Long throws rewards teams just for reaching the attacking third, rather than doing enough to force the defender to knock the ball out over his own goal line.
Third, long throws are painful to watch. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I hate watching long throw-ins. Not from a partisan standpoint either; Ohio Wesleyan has a long thrower this year and it drives me nuts. I don’t enjoy aimless kickball or direct play much either, but at least it follows the general sense of the game.
Fourth, a long-throw-header combination is the only way to score where nobody actually kicks the ball in the buildup. Soccer is a sport best known for not using your hands; it seems absurd that teams can execute entire goal-scoring plays without using their feet.
At first, I thought you could prohibit players from running up to a throw-in. Few professional teams use long throw-ins. Granted, pro centerbacks are tall and good in the air, so a long throw is not as valuable. But professional fields also have little sideline space, so players cannot take long run-ups to throw the ball in. If you eliminate run-ups in college soccer, it would be much more difficult to execute a dangerous long throw. Still, the no-run-ups rule would be difficult to enforce, and it would still allow some teams to pump throws into the box.
The solution? No throw-in may go directly into the box. That’s easy to enforce—if the ball crosses into the box, the play is dead and the defending team gets a free kick.
This rule solves the problems I detailed above. Teams would have an incentive to take a quick throw before a defense sets up. They could still pump balls into the box, just not via throw-in. And they could still use long throws to get out of their own end. Teams just could not use a throw-in as a functional free kick.
I’m open to feedback, but I see two main counter-arguments.
One: eliminating long throws would decrease scoring. Goals are hard to come by, so eliminating a form of attack that leads to many goals could lower scoring overall. That may be true, although it would be offset some by the increase in the time the ball is in play. But I think the benefits outweigh the costs.
Two: eliminating long throws would favor better teams. Soccer is famous for upsets, and a large percentage of upsets come via set pieces. I find this argument less persuasive. Soccer is a highly variable sport because it has low-scoring games, so eliminating long throws should not affect that too much. Also, as we’ve seen in D-III soccer, elite teams use long throws just as much as weak ones. If anything, getting rid of the long throw would force good teams to play better soccer, rather than just relying on a long-throw bombardment to win games.
Ryan’s Box Score Top 10
Just the rankings today. I’ll go into more detail once we have the full regional data sheets, including records versus ranked teams.
(1) Messiah (14-1-0, D3soccer.com No.1)
(2) Calvin (14-0-1, No. 2)
(3) Tufts (11-1-1, No. 5)
(4) Rowan(15-2-0, No. 9)
(5) Trinity (Texas) (14-1-0, No. 4)
(6) Oneonta State (11-1-1, No. 8)
(7) Lycoming (14-2-0, No. 6)
(8) St. Thomas (14-1-0, No. 12)
(9) Drew (15-0-1, No. 15)
(10) Chicago (13-2-0, No. 3)
Comments or feedback for the author? E-mail Ryan Harmanis.