The UC Irvine men's soccer team finished 14-3-3, won the Big West Conference regular-season title, were ranked No. 1 in the West Regional rankings most of the season and were in the national top 10 for the final six weeks of the regular season.
So, how were the Anteaters rewarded? With another snub from the NCAA Division 1 tournament selection committee.
Not that UCI is not used to the indignity. Scott French begins his ESPN blog post on the non-selection thusly:
George Kuntz remembered what happened in 2006, when his UC Irvine men's soccer team was 13-4-3 and ready to accept its first invitation to the NCAA tournament. The Anteaters were snubbed.
So, mindful of that, he chose to gather his team for Monday's NCAA Division I announcement in a quiet room on campus--"just in case"--rather than with well-wishers at the sports-themed restaurant across the street.
There were a lot of broken hearts in that room.
Kuntz went on to tell French, "It's something we won't forget. . . . This is probably as deep a disappointment as [we've ever had]."
The sports blogger agrees UCI wuz robbed.
The NCAA's soccer committees have made some frightful decisions over the years, especially in seeding its women's tournament, but it's hard to imagine a poorer one than the omission of this year's UC Irvine side from the field.
He accused the committee of relying too much on "a heavily flawed tool":
Ratings Performance Index, or RPI.
The Anteaters have a highly regarded coach, a national rep in big-time college soccer and 11 shutouts on the field this season (one a 2-0 decision over Oakland of Michigan, which is in the 2010 tournament field, and a scoreless draw with UC Santa Barbara, which won the Big West's automatic berth).
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But UCI was apparently done in by what French called "a shock loss" to Cal State Fullerton in the Big West tournament semifinals. The bigger defeat came when Irvine's resulting RPI dropped mightily.
That the RPI drop would be enough to bump such a worthy team from the NCAA tournament "illustrates the failure of the tool to make judgments in sports in which no teams play national schedules," writes French, who believes the RPI rewards college soccer's traditional power conferences (the Atlantic Coast, Big East and Big Ten primarily) at the expense of the West.
The NCAA committee also considers teams' final eight games, a time of the season injury-plagued UCI did struggle, finishing 4-2-2. But tournament selections Denver (4-3-1) and New Mexico (4-1-2) did not end much better--and the Anteaters are regarded as a much stronger team from a much stronger conference. For instance, New Mexico was beaten by Cal State Bakersfield, who UCI blanked 4-0.
Besides, "The Anteaters, to anyone who really understands, had the tougher schedule over those eight games," writes French, who notes sadly, "RPI said otherwise."