Ringler: Use match play in conference postseason
Just like that, winter has passed and college golf's championship season is here. There wasn’t a lot of time for many players to fine-tune their games, but that’s the life of a college golfer during the early spring season.
Over the course of the next four weeks, 31 men's teams and 27 women's teams will win their respective conference championship and earn their league's automatic-qualifying spot into NCAA regional play. Those 58 conference champions will all be determined by stroke play, and then 81 men's teams and 72 women's teams will compete in regional competition, where stroke play again will determine who moves on to the national championship. At-large bids also rely almost entirely on stroke-play results.
This year the women will use stroke play to determine the national champion for the last time. There is a change on the horizon: In 2015, match play will be introduced at the women's finals.
The men know the match-play format well, having experienced it for five years now.
This spring at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan., the men will crown a champion via match play for the sixth consecutive year.
By now, you might think this is going to be a “Ringler-hates-match-play” read. Well, you would be wrong. I’m going in a different direction.
After attending the last five NCAA championships, I can't deny that they were not enjoyable and entertaining. They certainly were more exciting and memorable than the previous eight.
So, if most everyone who has been part of these championships echoes my comments, why have we not seen more match play? There actually has been a decrease in regular-season match-play events during the past few years. Does that make any sense?
We hear about the uniqueness of team vs. team at the finals and how that spurs interest. That attitude of rivalry has not really developed, has it? In those five championships, only 25 programs have experienced match play at the championship level.
Maybe we have been teased a bit with an Oklahoma State-Georgia match or a No. 1-vs.-No. 2 matchup with Texas and Alabama. But really, we have yet to feel or see the environment we see in other championship segments in other sports.
Here's the direction to go now: Make match play the format at all conference championships.
Sure, last year’s championship match between Alabama and Illinois had its charm, but imagine Alabama vs. Auburn at the SEC Championship. Or Arizona vs. Arizona State in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament. Or a win-or-go-home matchup of Harvard vs. Yale in the Ivy League, with the automatic qualifier at stake to advance to NCAA postseason. Talk about creating interest from your school's fan base, generating excitement and bringing more attention to the sport. This would be the formula. We know this to be true from other team sports in which true head-to-head play is used.
For now, match play is the ending point, but it is short-lived – sort of like a one-minute-plus rollercoaster ride. It’s a ride that many more would enjoy, if they actually had a chance to experience it.
Although it seems silly to crown a national champion with a format rarely and sometimes never used, there is no doubt it often is more exciting. Imagine that excitement on a longer ride throughout April and into May, and not just a quick finish on the last couple of days at season's end.