We are well into May and in college tennis that means nothing more exciting than the NCAA Tournament. If you are an active follower of blogs and websites, covering what's happening in the world of college tennis on a daily basis, you are probably well-informed and excited about the weeks to come. If you are interested, but haven't yet gotten your head around how this all works - especially with the many different conferences within the NCAA - well, this article might be just the right piece of information for you.
We'll go down to a level where we explain in 5 steps what it takes for college tennis teams to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. And hopefully by the end of the read, the NCAAs got you hooked to an extent that makes you just want to dig right into the analyses, projections, and discussions. We'll provide links to the websites, doing a superb job in providing just that.
Let's get right to it:
Regular College Tennis Season
The regular season runs from January to the end of April and teams travel the country for matchups against squads from the same conference as well as programs from other conferences. While doing so, teams collect wins and losses; some against better-ranked programs and others against lower-ranked (or unranked) ones. Whether a program is ranked or not is important, because wins over ranked programs are of greater value in the ITA's Rankings. In men's NCAA D1 tennis there are a total of 31 conferences. Find a list of them all at the end of this article.*
In 30 out of these 31 conferences a big final showdown is set to happen at the end of the season: a Conference Tournament, which crowns its champion of the season, such as "Big 12 Champion 2016" or "SEC Champion 2016". (For your information, TCU (Big 12) and Georgia (SEC) were this year's Conference Champs.) Depending on the conference, the final tournament is often limited to the top teams of the season. The one league not conducting a Conference Championship is the Ivy League, in which the champion is determined through the intra-conference play during the season (2016 League Champion: Columbia).
NCAA D1 National Championship Selection
31 conferences bring forward 31 champions, receiving an automatic bid into the NCAA Selection. With a tournament size of 64, there are additional 33 bids up for grabs. This is where the regular college season (see above Step 1) comes into play: The 33 best ranked teams, which are not among the automatic qualifiers receive an "at-large bid". Due to the varying strength of conferences in general, a lot of the Conference Champions are unranked, which creates the situation that some conferences only send one of their league members to the NCAA Championship (Winner of Conference Tournament via automatic bid), whereas others send multiple teams to the Tournament (Winner of Conference Tournament + ranking-based at-large bids). To give you a better idea of how this plays out, here is a comparison:
The Patriot League sends 1 representing team (Army West Point - automatic berth) vs. the Big 10 with 5 teams (Ohio State - automatic berth; Illinois, Michigan, Northwestern, Penn State - at-large berth)!
The 16 best teams based on the ITA Rankings are seeded and receive the honour of hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
Even the NCAA Selection itself is a huge event for qualified teams! Take a look at what's going on during the live show:
NCAA Championships Round 1 & Round 2
Round 1 and Round 2, played at campus sites across the country, feature four teams in a single-elimination format one week from now (May 13-15). The hosting teams are obviously in a great position with the support of their home crowd as well as playing conditions their athletes are familiar with. Needless to say that a team like TCU will be able to feed off the crowd's energy:
The winners of these mini tournaments book a ticket for the Round of 16 (R16) and get ready for the big showdown a couple days later (May 20-24).
NCAA Sweet 16
Following the regional eliminations, the NCAA Tennis Championship (R16, QF, SF, Final) will see the highest-ranked teams left in the competition, with some strong contenders for the title, such as last year's champion Virginia. The event, followed by the Singles and Doubles Championships, will be held at the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Tulsa's "Hurricane" themselves received an at-large bid, being ranked #23 in the nation. They are set to travel to the University of Oklahoma, facing Oregon in the first round and a potential local matchup against #10 seed Oklahoma - a potential huge match on the Hurricane's way to represent their school in the Round of 16 some days thereafter.
While we gave an outline of the Road to the NCAA Team Championship in men's tennis today, there are two resources that will be covering all the live action in the weeks to come in great detail:
NCAA Championship Central - Tulsa: Click here
College Tennis Today - for great matchup projections, analyses, statements, and results by Bobby Knight: Click here
The Road to the NCAA Team Championship is the same for the women's programs, but we will publish a version just for the ladies' tournament (including an updated graphic) next week, prior to the first rounds at the campus sites! Check back with us next week and let us know what you think on Twitter or Facebook!
Are you a junior player, considering to become a college tennis player in the near future? Find out what Smarthlete has to offer for you or get started right away by creating a free recruiting profile already today!
*Conferences in men's NCAA D1 tennis:
American Athletic - Atlantic Coast - Atlantic Sun - Atlantic 10 - Big East - Big Sky - Big South - Big Ten - Big 12 - Big West - Colonial - Conference USA - Horizon - Ivy - MAAC - Mid-American - Mid-Eastern - Missouri Valley - Mountain West - Northeast - Ohio Valley - Pacific-12 - Patriot - SEC - Southern - Southland - SWAC - Summit - Sun Belt - West Coast - WAC