With the announcement of the NAIA Championship Series qualifiers there are teams excited to play next week, while others may feel they got snubbed. I am not one that will spend a lot of time saying the NAIA gets things wrong, but Sunday the voters got something wrong. I feel very confident behind my reasoning, but I can also understand why the NAIA voters did what it did.
Arguments will be made for Northwestern (Iowa) and Missouri Valley on why their season should continue on Saturday. The one team that has a legit argument to be in that was left out is William Penn (Iowa). The Statesmen finished the season 10-1 and will be sitting at home while six teams will be playing next weekend with two or more losses. The question came down to the final spot, would it be 10-1 William Penn or would 7-3 University of the Cumberlands (Ky.) make the necessary six spot jump to claim the final spot.
Let’s look at both of these teams.
Loss: No. 12 McKendree (Ill.) (8-2)
Why they should be in: The team won every game but one on their schedule. They averaged 406 yards/game on the ground this season, 94 yards better than any other team in the country. They have been ranked in the top 15 most of the season.
Why they should NOT be in: While they won all but one game on schedule, they failed to beat an opponent that was considered for the postseason. Ultimately the strength of schedule leaves to boys in Oskaloosa wondering what might have been.
Why they didn’t make it: In this system it is tough to lose late in the season and still be considered an at large team. The teams that lose late and still get an At-large berth are teams that lose to the top five teams in the country, not a team rated lower than them. If WPU lost this game in the first few weeks of the season, instead of October 23, they are in the postseason.
University of the Cumberlands
Losses: No. 12 McKendree (8-2), No. 17 Georgetown (8-2), Belhaven (4-7)
Why they should be in: They were the champions of the Mid-South Conference West Division.
Why they should NOT be in: They were not ranked in the top 25 the previous week. They have a loss to the bottom team in their division. They have losses to two teams in the postseason field, proving they cannot beat at least two teams who qualified this year.
Why they made it: Ultimately it comes down to being outright conference champions. The NAIA likes to represent all of its conferences in postseason play and that was proved with a six spot jump for UC to make it into this years Championship Series.
The NAIA voters are setting a precedent that if you win your conference then they will try to get you into the postseason. William Penn had a fantastic season. The Statesmen are relevant again, but they are turning in equipment this week because of one loss. The loss was the tie-breaker for the conference title. It doesn’t matter that they beat the potential conference champion (St. Francis-IL) in the final week of the season.
William Penn lost to a ranked opponent on October 23 and University of the Cumberlands lost to a team that had one win in the conference on October 30 and the Statesmen still weren’t good enough to make the postseason.
To be fair, if Cumberland University beat UC this past weekend, William Penn may still be sitting at home. It comes down to being a conference champion. It is right to try and include your conference champions in the postseason, but it is wrong to leave a one-loss team out because they lost a tie-breaker for the conference championship.
Something needs to change.