Two weeks from Sunday the NCAA will announce the 64-team Division I volleyball bracket.
Lisa Peterson, the University of Oregon senior women’s administrator, is the chair of the committee. We caught up with her and Kristin Fasbender, the NCAA director of championships, earlier this week and just ahead of Wednesday’s announcement of the top 10 teams in the country.
We started there.
“The committee has wanted to get information out and generate some buzz about the championships that are coming up,” said Fasbender, a former track athlete at Nebraska who has been at the NCAA for 18 years. “We talked (last spring) after seeing that women’s basketball and softball had done this. We thought this would be helpful to teams that are coming into their final stretch to see based on the selection criteria the committee uses to see where they are.”
Peterson admitted that the tournament fights with football season for publicity.
“It really is to create some excitement around the sport,” said Peterson, who was on the committee for two years before replacing Jean Berger of Northern Iowa as chair.
The top 10:
1. Nebraska (22-1)
2. Minnesota (19-4)
3. Wisconsin (20-3)
4. Texas (18-3)
5. San Diego (21-3)
6. Kansas (22-2)
7. Stanford (16-6)
8. North Carolina (21-3)
9. Florida (22-2)
10. Washington (20-4)
That list doesn’t really mean much, not with two weeks left to the regular season and teams battling for conference titles and NCAA RPI rankings. In a season that has arguably been the most unpredictable ever, particularly at the top of the power-five conferences and with some mid-majors having fantastic seasons, the committee has a tough task ahead.
Peterson’s role, of course, changes.
“The selection process is a lot harder than it looks on the outside,” said Peterson, a native of South Dakota who competed in the hammer throw at St. John’s in New York. “Every little thing matters. The first year (on the committee) you kind of don’t necessarily understand the level of detail you have to pay attention to. In the selection room seeing how the bracket got put together was kind of amazing to me.
“What I’ve learned is everyone is coming in with a different expertise and different viewpoints. I’m paying attention differently than my first year because I didn’t understand as much.”
She said watching a lot of volleyball keeps you “from getting caught up in the numbers and getting caught up in the RPI.
“When you’re actually watching the volleyball I think it makes a big difference. And we have a good group of people watching a lot of volleyball and not just relying on what the numbers say. And that’s what makes this committee really good at what they do, because they are paying really close attention in a lot of different ways.”
Peterson has a long and varied resume that includes stops at Miami and Maryland and, before she came to Oregon in 2011, the University of Kentucky.
“Volleyball matters to me. I’ve always loved the game of volleyball. I just wasn’t good enough to play it,” Peterson said with a laugh. “It’s something I’ve loved watching and when I’ve seen the different levels … I pay attention to it, I talk to the coaches about it, I have a different viewpoint from being in so many places at so many different levels for a long period of time.”
All that experience will come in handy when the committee gathers before the bracket is announced Sunday night, November 27.
Fasbender pointed out that the committee gathers the prior Friday and works through the weekend, coming back on Sunday to take into account all the final regular-season matches. Certainly the unpredictable nature of this season will make their jobs awfully tough.
“But I think that’s what makes this sport so exciting, too,” Peterson said. “Yes, it’s going to be really challenging, and in that room especially when you look at the different criteria and when did they meet them, all the different stuff we argue about and debate anyway, but there seems to be no real pattern. Nebraska seems to be the only one. They have the one loss and that’s it. But that’s what makes it exciting. It’s going to be a long weekend in Indy but I think it’s going to be a lot of fun and I think it’s going to make for a really fun NCAA Championship.”
Agreed, but no matter what the committee does, there will be criticism over seeding and who gets in and who doesn’t.
“I learned that the first year, too,” Peterson said.
She said they talk about what might upset people and to try to be transparent in all regards, because “when we walk out of there we all know why we did what we did and we feel pretty good based on the information we had at the time. You go with what you’ve seen, what you’ve watched and you go with the expertise in the room, as well.”
Fasbender, in her seventh year working with the volleyball committee added, “I think people are starting to understand better. The committee did a session last year (at the AVCA Convention) on bracketing 101 and I think it helped coaches understand. You’re going to have some coaches who disagree regardless, but there was one thing Jean Berger always would say when someone would get upset because they didn’t get in or didn’t like their seed, ‘OK, who should come out?’ And I think the committee does a really good job, especially when they get down to those few, ‘OK, if we put this one in who’s coming out?’ They do an awesome job.”
Last year, Berger took some heat because NIU was on the so-called bubble and made it in. Peterson won’t have that problem with Oregon, which is definitely going to get in. The Ducks, a young team, have won three in a row, five of six, and are ranked No. 16 in the AVCA Division I Poll and stand 20th in the NCAA RPI.
“They do cause a lot of heartburn with their ups and downs and we can’t win a game at home while being perfect on the road,” she said. “But really it’s Pac-12 volleyball. It’s great to see what Oregon can do but I love watching this conference. It’s a lot of fun, exciting volleyball and it just translates across the country. Yeah, it’s great when Oregon is good, but I do hate being out of the (committee) room when they’re being talked about. That part stinks.”
MIDWEST REGION — Corey Bray, Associate Athletics Director, University of Alabama at Birmingham
MIDEAST REGION — Rick Cole, Director of Athletics, Iona College
WEST REGION —Carrie Coll, Senior Associate Athletics Director/SWA, California State, Fresno
EAST REGION— Vanessa Fuchs, Senior Associate Athletics Director/SWA, Florida State University
SOUTH REGION —Debbie Garcia, Senior Associate Athletics Director/SWA, University of Texas at Arlington
NORTHEAST REGION —Tim Hall, Director of Athletics University of Maryland, Baltimore County
CENTRAL REGION — Kelley Hartley-Hutton, Director of Athletics, Indiana U.-Purdue U., Fort Wayne
CENTRAL REGION — Jenny McGhee, Associate Commissioner, Southland Conference
SOUTH REGION — David Mines, Senior Associate Athletics Director, Auburn University
PACIFIC REGION — Lisa Peterson, Deputy Athletic Director/SWA, University of Oregon
To read the entire NCAA top-10 release story, click here.