College Men

2014 flips switch on NCAA's latest must-see TV

The 2014 NCAA Division I Men's Championship at Prairie Dunes.
The 2014 NCAA Division I Men's Championship at Prairie Dunes. ( Tracy Wilcox )

Monday, May 26, 2014

HUTCHINSON, Kan. – Thinking back to a session during a coaches convention maybe seven or eight years ago, the talk had surfaced about the NCAA Division I Men’s Championship using match play to crown a champion.

If you were hearing this for the first time it was crazy talk; it made no sense. Match play was not part of college golf. Little did we know this was something that had been tossed around by a select few for years prior to that coaches’ convention.

Reason No. 1 for this change had to do with the different format being more attractive for television. It was thought that the head-to-head aspect would make for great theater and furthermore was something the common golf fan could easily understand.

The crazy talk became a reality when we heard it out of the words Oklahoma State Mike Holder, then head coach and now athletics director in Stillwater. Holder addressed a small crowd of media members at the 2008 NCAA Championship held at the Kampen Course at Purdue.

Match play has crowned five champions and seems to continue to tilt the scale in favor of this format this week. It’s not the way college golf normally operates, but there is no question it is good theater. And to this point in time, that is what matters.

In the last couple of years, talk of Golf Channel being on board to televise this event grew stronger. Plans were finalized a year ago.

Today, a dream has come true for college golf advocates. There has been much trial and error. There are still many skeptics. There is still a better formula. However, none of that matters today. The red light will go on and golf fans from around the globe will learn who Patrick Rodgers is. They will know how to pronounce the name Ollie Schniederjans. Finally college golf will be on the biggest stage the sport has ever seen.

This week has been tough. It’s been tough on student-athletes, tough on coaches, tough on the NCAA men’s golf championship committee and certainly tough on the entire staff at Prairie Dunes.

With a total of five stoppages in play and more than 10 hours of delayed time, the people inside the ropes, and yes there are ropes here, were very concerned with what might happen here at Prairie Dunes. There was much talk that Golf Channel was going to be calling the shots. Members of the championship committee insisted that was not the case and nothing states that more than the announcement yesterday that clearly put emphasis on team over individual this week.

For the last five years, the individual portion of this championship has been decided in 54 holes – the same number of holes played to get the top eight teams into match play. This year, the schedule included a fourth round of stroke play that would see only the top 40 players and ties compete for the individual championship.

This immediately drew concerns when it was made official last June. Even if the weather was cooperative here in Hutchinson, the individual-only round was going to feel out of place. That’s why there was much concern that the committee might shave off a team stroke-play round or possibly cut the field in order to still get the individuals under the spotlight.

To almost everyone’s surprise, the individual-only round was erased.

One of the most exciting displays of golf on television is the Ryder Cup, which is team golf. Today at Prairie Dunes, it will also be team golf at its best. The best of both worlds will be on stage: The individual champion will be crowned and the excitement on display will surround the teams vying for a spot in the top eight, which will send them into match play and a step closer to winning a national championship.

Most of the world views golf as an individual sport. Today it might catch a glimpse of how five individuals playing for the name on their golf bag means a little more during their college years. readers: We value your input and welcome your comments, but please be respectful in this forum.