Rounding out the bracket is tough enough when half of the 64 teams in the field are at-large bids.
But when the NCAA Tournament is conducted next spring, the field of 48 will allow for just 16 at-large teams.
However, T.J. Meagher, the chair of the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Committee, is not complaining.
Just the opposite.
“I don’t look at it like they’re taking (the bids) away,” said Meagher, who is in his fourth and final year on the committee and first as chair.
“I think they’re giving us an opportunity to have a legitimate championship.
“Yes, I would love to have 64 with 32 at-large, but to tell you the truth, baseball, softball, track, they’re not going to have a champion for 2020. It looks like we should be able to crown a 2020 champion for women’s volleyball but it won’t happen until spring.”
Meagher is a senior associate athletics director for capital projects at the University of Houston.
“Early on there was a belief that 32 (teams) might be the number that we get and that brought about a major round of discussion if would be all 32 automatics or would you have some hybrid. Ultimately to know that we can move forward with 32 automatics and 16 at-large, I feel pretty good that that’s a justified championship for the winner.”
Since the NCAA started conducting a women’s volleyball championship, just 10 schools have won it all, and in the last 14 years, just five schools have done it. The chances of a team that gets an at-large bid from outside the Power 5 conferences — with a few exceptions — winning it all are minuscule at best.
For that matter, here’s how the at-large situation worked out last year:
2019 NCAA Tournament at-large bids
Big Ten — 6
SEC — 5
Pac-12 — 5
ACC — 3
Big 12 — 3
Big East — 2
Big West — 2
WCC — 1
Conference USA — 1
American Athletic — 1
Missouri Valley — 1
Horizon — 1
Atlantic 10 — 1
Of the four teams in the 2019 national semifinals, eventual-champion Stanford won the Pac-12 and its automatic bid. The team it beat in the final, Wisconsin, won the Big Ten. Baylor — which was the overall No. 1 seed in the 2019 tournament, tied Texas for the Big 12 regular-season title but got an at-large since Texas won the league’s automatic bid due to conference tiebreaker rules. Minnesota of the Big Ten got an at-large bid.
The NCAA Tournament started in 1981 — the AIAW held its last championship that year, as well — with 20 teams.
The NCAA bracket was expanded to 28 teams in 1982.
It went up to 32 in 1986 and to 48 in 1993.
There were 56 teams in 1997 and the next year, 1998, got to 64.
The tournament was scheduled to culminate in Omaha in December. Now, the national semifinals are April 23 with the championship match April 25 and it’s likely those matches will also occur in Omaha. If nothing else, Omaha in April is way warmer than Omaha in December.
“i think there are some bigger questions to answer as to what the format will look like and what the competition oversight committee will put forth,” Meagher said. “With their leadership they make it a little easier for decision making because they take care of the heavy lifting.
“My reaction is thankfulness that we can have all 32 (conferences) represented plus 16. I can’t say it enough, that I think it’s a big win for volleyball.”
Meagher’s resume includes being the head coach at Campbell from 1998-2000. He was also an assistant at Kentucky and Ole Miss. He spent seven years as the legislative representative on the AVCA board of directors.
“From the initial conversations from what was originally going to happen I appreciated the NCAA drawing the line and saying if the membership drops below 50 percent participation then then the championship would not be competed in that segment. That was key, because it put the onus back on the conferences and institutions to determine what they thought was in the best interest of the student-athletes,” Meagher said.
“I thought that was clear leadership. There’s been a lot of criticism over should you have done more, should you have said more or been more forthcoming or more insightful. I think all of that was very misplaced. This is a very difficult time for anyone to be completely resolved in the direction they should take. It constantly changes. It seems like we’re normalizing now but it’s taken a long time to get there.”
Meagher is joined on the NCAA DI committee by Washington assistant athletic director Karen Baebler, Western Kentucky associate A.D. Jon McCammon, Tennessee associate A.D. Angie Boyd Keck, Ohio State executive associate A.D. Janine Oman, Ball State senior associate A.D. Karin Lee, Idaho State A.D. Pauline Thiros, Samford senior women’s administrator and last year’s chair Michell Durban, Duquesne associate A.D. Sherene Brantley, and Loyola-Chicago deputy director of athletics Holly Strauss-O’Brien.
“We’ve never been through anything like this,” Meagher said. “I think the best way to say it is in a couple of years we might look back and see what we should have done and when we should have done it but that would be impossible to foresee at a time like this.
“I think they (the NCAA) have moved as rapidly as they can and as I said I’m most pleased with the fact that they prioritized having the championship for the fall sports that could not compete because of the lack of 50-percent participation.”