The NCAA Division III selection committee isn’t out to get Whitworth.
But it is out to save money on travel expenses, and that – along with a lower ranking – is the reason the Pirates’ men’s basketball team is playing 1,600 miles from home this weekend in the first round of the national tournament.
“That is something, especially in the first and second rounds that we have to take into consideration,” said committee chairman Ken Schumann, who is also the athletic director of Pacific University of the Northwest Conference.
Despite a 24-3 record and No. 7 ranking, the Pirates are playing in Texas this weekend in a pod with three lower-ranked teams. Whitworth had hoped for a first-round bye and a second-round home game – as it did last year – but there was one important difference this time around, stresses Schumann.
Last year, the Pirates were ranked No. 1 in the nation, and even though they were later shipped east for the third round, they were given a first-round bye and a home game in the second round.
It also helped that two California- based teams qualified for the tournament last year.
“The last two years, those conditions have existed where Whitworth could host and have a first-round bye, and this year that wasn’t the situation,” Schumann said.
This year, Whitworth and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps are the only West Coast teams in the men’s field of 62, so in the absence of high national rankings, both were sent east.
“Obviously, it wasn’t a perfect set of circumstances for either school,” said Schumann, adding that there is strength in numbers, though he wouldn’t go so far as to imply that if it hadn’t lost in the NWC tournament, Whitworth would have enhanced its chances of hosting a first-round game.
This year, George Fox of the NWC is top-ranked in the women’s field, and is getting the same treatment, partly because NWC rival Lewis & Clark made the field. Again, strength in numbers.
In the end, Schumann concedes, geography is a major consideration in assigning home sites for the tournament. Out of 325 teams in Division III, only 17 are located on the West Coast.
“Again it’s a process and a decision that we have to go through based on the policies that we have in place,” said Schumann, who is in his fourth and final year on the committee.
That said, Schumann wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Whitworth hosting a sectional on March 8-9, provided Whitworth and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps survive the weekend.
“It’s certainly not out of the question, and if that were the case, it would certainly enhance their chances,” Schumann said.