The NCAA announced the 2018 softball championship field last night at 10pm on ESPN2. Unfortunately, the Pittsburgh Panthers (33-18-1, 16-6-0) didn’t receive one of the 32 at-large bids. That’s especially disappointing considering they were just 1 out away from securing an automatic bid by upsetting the No. 1 Seed, Florida State, in the ACC Tournament Championship game on Saturday.
I won’t pretend that I know much of anything about the selection process for NCAA Division I softball, as this is my first year covering anything besides basketball and I admittedly only watched Pitt for the most part. So I am going to breakdown why I think they missed on receiving an at-large bid based on some rationale, and then digress into my overly biased opinion. Buckle up.
The 32 automatic bids didn’t all go to the favorites within each conference, and that happens in every sport that is structured similarly. Tulsa won the American Athletic Conference, despite finishing 6th overall in the regular season. While the other three AAC teams have a better RPI than Pitt - Wichita St. (32), Houston (35), and South Florida (42) - The Golden Hurricane have an RPI of 59, 11 spots lower than the Panthers. Had any of the aforementioned teams won the conference tournament, Tulsa wouldn’t have made the cut.
Perhaps the best example is Cal State Fullerton securing their automatic bid by winning the Big West Tournament. With an RPI of 47, just one spot better than the Panthers, had Long Beach State (RPI of 20) won the conference tournament, you could argue it would have been a coin-flip between the Titans and the Panthers.
Of course neither of those scenarios happened. Otherwise Pitt probably makes the NCAA Tournament and at least one of those teams, undoubtedly the Golden Hurricane, doesn’t. I confidently say undoubtedly because it seems the selection committee used RPI as the first, second, and only factor in their at-large choices.
If they used other criteria then Notre Dame wouldn’t have been an at-large selection. Sure, the Fighting Irish had an RPI of 43, but that isn’t worlds better than Pitt. The Panthers also won the Costal Division. Notre Dame didn’t win the Atlantic Division, the Seminoles did.
Pitt made it to the conference championship game, while the Fighting Irish were bounced in the semifinals. The Panthers were winners of 12 out of their last 13 games going into the championship game, while Notre Dame was a floundering 4-7 in their last 11 games against ACC opponents after Florida State eliminated them in the conference tournament.
So if you’re counting at home: Pitt won a division title, was a higher seed in the ACC Tournament, went farther in said tournament, was the hotter team down the stretch, and had to have passed the eye test if you watched the championship game. Yet because the Fighting Irish had a slightly higher RPI, that’s all that mattered?
The Panthers got snubbed. Plain and simple. You aren’t going to be able to convince this committee of one otherwise. With all that said, not making the NCAA Tournament shouldn’t detract from a tremendous season, both from a team perspective and as individuals.
I never was able to attend a game, something I am going to attempt to rectify next season, but I really appreciate how accommodating the team and players were in doing Q&A’s throughout the season. A big thank you to McKayla Taylor, Olivia Gray, Sarah Dawson, and head coach Holly Aprile in that regard!