This might be the year, the Whitworth Pirates hoped, that the NCAA would get it right.
As the fourth-ranked team in Division III, they had a right to expect that finally, the NCAA wouldn’t sacrifice integrity for a few dollars. That for once, it wouldn’t make a competitive mockery of a national bracketed tournament.
Once again, that was too much to hope for. As a reward for knocking off top-ranked Whitman last weekend, the Pirates may have to do it again this week, on the road against a team that will be aching for revenge.
That’s some reward.
Or as Whitworth coach Matt Logie said Monday morning after the bracket unveiling, “The NCAA has their procedures and they follow them to the dollar.”
Those dollars are doled out by the truckload at the Division I level, where March Madness begins with trips by dozens of teams and their tens of thousands of followers.
However, few of those March Madness TV dollars ever make it down to Division III, where the selection committee must keep travel costs to a minimum.
Given the option to send Whitworth farther afield – against less daunting competition in Texas or the Midwest – the committee opted for the bus trip to Walla Walla.
“There are lot of things they could have done,” said Logie, whose team finished second behind Whitman in the final D3 poll released later on Monday. “But that would have required them to spend some money to make it a true seeded tournament.”
In Division I terms, this is akin to matching Duke (currently ranked fifth) and North Carolina (ninth) in the second round in order to save a few bucks.
And how many bucks, exactly?
It costs anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000 to ship a team, coaches and support personnel across the country on short notice.
The Division III committee keeps those trips to a minimum, but this year had no choice but to ship Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (from Southern California) and Schreiner (from Texas) to the Whitman pod.
Given the choice of flying in a third team to Walla Walla or sending Whitworth on another bus ride, the NCAA committee opted for the latter.
There’s more savings down the road, as only one team from west of the Rockies – or none, if underdog Schreiner emerges from the Whitman pod – will reach the Sweet 16.
The total savings this year, if the right teams advance: about $50,000.
Not surprisingly, Whitworth athletic director Tim Demant questioned the decision-making, if not the system itself.
“I have some issues with how the NCAA, at the Division III level, chooses to spend their money,” Demant said. “And we are often the ones who get the short end of the stick.”
Indeed, Whitworth has been down this road before. The Pirates hosted a four-team pod in 2016, but mostly they’ve been shipped East.
In 2011 – Jim Hayford’s last year before moving to Eastern Washington – a top-ranked Whitworth team was shipped to Wooster, Ohio, and lost in the Elite Eight on their opponents’ home floor.
Given the history, the Pirates had no reason to be surprised.
“I don’t think there’s real disappointment when you have historical perspective,” Logie said. “At every level, money is the king and the root of it, whether that’s a positive or a negative.”
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