When the .500 rule was introduced to men’s college golf, there was much speculation on what might happen. Now that we are four years into the rule, many of those predictions are coming true.
The biggest forecast was that teams would pull out of tournaments with strong fields or enter weaker events to protect their won-loss percentages. That has happened more this year (see Oregon, Florida State and Arizona) than in any of the three previous seasons under the rule, suggesting that the flood gates may be opening.
The one thing I liked about the rule when it was introduced: It added a strategic element to the coach’s job. Coaches need to realize the level of their teams and schedule accordingly to make sure their squads are postseason eligible by having more head-to-head wins than losses at season’s end.
There always has been a catch with college golf. Schedules are not regulated, with one exception: conference championships. Other than a team having to play in its conference finale, teams can play anywhere and against any teams they choose. And there are no deadlines on when a schedule needs to be set.
Because of this lack of restrictions, a team basically can withdraw from an event whenever it likes and can add an event in the same manner. This has been the case since college golf began, but in the past the reasons usually were budget issues or missed class time. There is no rule against changing schedules in midseason.
Because of the .500 rule, however, some coaches whose teams are flirting with the .500 mark have chosen the option of pulling their teams out of tournaments where they may have a tough time posting a high finish. And that means the schools that host events can’t be all that pleased with the ease of leaving a last-minute hole in the tournament field. Is it fair that a team can pull out of a tournament simply to try and meet the .500 rule guidelines?
Because of this touchy situation, we are likely to see the start of a new trend as early as next season: tournaments that require participating schools to sign a “game contract.”
University of San Diego coach Tim Mickelson already has contracts for schools that want to play in his 2012 spring events.
For the San Diego Intercollegiate Classic in February, a team must pay a $2,000 penalty if it withdraws. For the Callaway Farms Invitational in March, teams will have to pay $1,000 to get out. Both events will allow teams to cancel without a financial penalty up to 4 1/2 months before the start date.
This generally is only an issue with spring-season events. After the fall schedule, teams are able to more clearly predict whether they are going to have a problem finishing with a .500 winning percentage.
At this time, game contracts may be the only thing that can keep late withdrawals from spreading more rapidly. The ideal situation would be to have set schedules – tournament dates that could not be changed after, say, July 1 for the fall season and Jan. 1 for the spring. But that would have to be another rule change that is set and regulated from the top and would be an issue for some lower-budget programs that often must switch to events closer to home because of unforeseen financial constraints. Such a rule is not likely to ever see the light of day, if for no other reasons than a lack of consensus that it is needed and the probable scarcity of anyone to regulate and enforce it.
To work, a tournament withdrawal fee has to be severe enough to keep a team from pulling out. Even if the penalty were to be hefty, we still could see a large-conference program with deep pockets pay it. And is that really fair to teams that can’t afford to do so?
Still, tournament contracts seem to be the most-realistic solution to keep teams from changing their schedules at midseason – or later.