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Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)
The NCAA softball coaches who cast votes in that sport's national poll will unveil their new rankings Tuesday. If they have any sense of humor — or eagerness to troll — they will slide the Gophers into the No. 1 spot.
Maybe then the NCAA tournament selection committee will feel duly embarrassed, if that's not already the case.
On Sunday, the committee took the Gophers' résumé and symbolically ripped it into tiny pieces.
Committee members viewed a 54-3 record, No. 2 national ranking and 25-game winning streak as a cute little story but not worthy of one of the top 16 seeds in the tournament.
Shame on you, Gophers. Why didn't you go undefeated? That perhaps would've been good for a No. 13 seed.
Seriously, how did a committee of softball experts look at the Gophers' historic season and
decide they don't deserve to host a regional as a top 16 seed? Did they forget a secret handshake or something?
This case offers a weird disconnect. The coaches who vote in the weekly poll and presumably have strong knowledge of their sport ranked the Gophers second nationally last week, and five of them voted them No. 1.
The selection committee believes the Gophers are not one of the 16 best teams nationally.
Committee chair Keisha Dunlap of Conference USA didn't respond to multiple interview requests from the Star Tribune. Instead, the committee released a statement Monday evening that attempted to explain its decision.
In a nutshell, the committee slammed the Gophers' strength of schedule, which was 114th nationally, according to its data. The committee said the 16 seeds had strength of schedules ranging from 1 to 36.
However, the Gophers are ranked 11th in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), which supposedly is a key criteria, too.
Another argument by the committee: The Gophers went 2-2 against teams inside the top 25 RPI and don't own a victory against a top-10 team. Yet, they also posted a 16-3 record against teams in the NCAA tournament field.
What seems especially perplexing is that the committee tossed bouquets at the Gophers in their preliminary rankings.
On May 6, the committee ranked the Gophers seventh in their poll. The committee's statement Monday noted that those rankings weren't considered when setting the tournament bracket.
Then why even have the rankings? That's like me showing my kids steaks I'm cooking on the grill and then saying, fooled you, you're really having Brussels sprouts for dinner.
Assuming the committee wasn't simply throwing darts at a wall covered in school names, the members must have felt pretty strongly about the Gophers' résumé when it released those rankings last week.
The Gophers somehow managed to hurt their cause by going 4-0 and winning the Big Ten tournament championship after that. The committee rewarded them by dropping them out of the top 16 seeds.
This slight brings a double whammy. The Gophers not only are not hosting a regional, but if they do survive the first weekend in Alabama, they likely will have to travel again for the Super Regionals to face Florida, the tournament's No. 1 overall seed.
Some might sneer at the outrage over this story because softball doesn't get covered with the same obsession as football and basketball. That's fine. But a swing and miss this badly in any sport is worth examining and asking questions. Imagine the scorched-earth reaction if the men's basketball committee made a decision that looked as screwy as this one.
Gophers coach Jessica Allister and her players didn't hide their frustration and bewilderment Monday. But Allister tried hard to push any resentment to the background so that her players aren't distracted or mope into the tournament.
"It's by far not the biggest injustice done to anyone in the world," Allister said.
The Gophers still have a chance to prove that they are one of the best softball teams in the country. Now they're angry. The selection committee made their road harder, not impossible.
Chip Scoggins email@example.com
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