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Ducks cry foul: Oregon feels it should be hosting a regional, not heading to Austin

James Crepea
The Oregonian
Oregon players wait to take the field before their April 10 game against UCLA. At the time, the Ducks were ranked No. 3 in the country and the Bruins were No. 2. UCLA won 3-0.

EUGENE, Ore. — The Oregon Ducks were considered for a top-16 national seed in the NCAA softball tournament but lost out on hosting a regional because of their record against top 10 and top 50 opponents compared to Kentucky, which received the No. 15 seed, according to the selection committee chair.

Matt Larsen, North Dakota State’s athletic director and the chair of the NCAA softball committee, explained the numerous factors and metrics that were evaluated including RPI, adjusted RPI, strength of schedule and nonconference strength of schedule and records against top 10, top 25 and top 50 teams, nearly all of which also earned bids to the NCAA tournament.

The only team in the top 15 of RPI (12), adjusted RPI (15) and strength of schedule (9) not to receive a national seed and get to host an NCAA regional, Oregon (37-15) is the No. 2 seed in the Austin Regional hosted by 12th-seeded Texas and open regional play against Texas State on Friday.

“Oregon was right there as were a couple of other schools that got left out of the top 16,” Larsen said on The James Crepea Show on Fox Sports Eugene on Monday. “But when you looked at the metrics they maybe had a few less top 25 or top 10 (wins) or maybe there were couple of schools that had a couple more in those categories against nonconference, power conferences that really helped give us — that was another good measuring point for us against other conferences and other teams in the bracket.

“I think at the end of the day some of those things just tipped the scales in those other 16 teams’ favor instead of Oregon. I know it’s hard; Oregon is a really, really good team and we spent a lot of time on those top 20 teams, probably the most time we spent in our whole entire evaluation process of 72 hours to really try to get it right. At the end of the day somebody’s going to get left out of there and unfortunately it was Oregon.”

The only team outside the top 16 in RPI (17) and adjusted RPI (18) to receive a national seed, Kentucky benefited from a 14-13 record against top 50 teams, including 7-10 against the top 25 and 5-8 against the top 10, all also national seeds from within the SEC. UK’s worst loss came in extra innings at Western Kentucky (RPI 47), which also made the tournament field. It had a lower strength of schedule (31) and nonconference strength of schedule (177) than Oregon. Kentucky’s best nonconference win came against Illinois State (RPI 59).

Oregon infielder Rachel Cid, left, talks with fellow infielder Alyssa Brito during the Ducks' 3-0 loss to UCLA in April. Oregon is the No. 2 seed in this week's Austin Regional.

By comparison, Oregon went 10-14 against the top 50, 6-12 against the top 25 and 2-4 against the top 10, all of which came against No. 2 seed UCLA, the top team in RPI. Oregon's worst loss came at Oregon State (RPI 60), which it also beat four times, its nonconference strength of schedule (136) is better than Kentucky and so too is its best nonconference wins against Fresno State (RPI 46), which made the tournament.

“We’re talking a fine margin,” Larsen said. “But at the end of the day when you looked at their full résumé there were a couple of things that probably weighed in (Kentucky’s) favor over Oregon.”

There was also some controversy over Georgia getting to host a regional with No. 13 seed Duke. Larsen said Oregon and Michigan, which is the No. 2 seed in No. 16 seed Washington’s regional, were the other teams considered for that opportunity, but bracketing principles for the NCAA that call for “the closest geographical consideration,” particularly within 400 miles for teams to bus rather than fly, is what led to Athens being selected from the remaining 20 predetermined potential host sites.

Oregon’s pairing with Texas and former Ducks coach Mike White and former players Lauren Burke, Shannon Rhodes and Mary Iakopo certainly makes for a compelling storyline, particularly for ESPN, which mentioned it immediately upon Sunday night’s seeding announcement.

But it’s also controversial given the events from the spring and fall of 2018, when Oregon lost nearly its entire returning starting roster to transfers amid the coaching change from White to Melyssa Lombardi.

Larsen said there were “zero conversations” among the selection committee about the history between the programs when they paired Oregon with Texas.

“Oregon going to Texas, I promise you was not about TV, it wasn’t about drama, it was about that’s where they fell in terms of our bracketing process and the principles that we’re dealt,” he said.

By the true S-curve it would also mean Oregon was the No. 21 true seed, but Larsen said that was not the case. Once the committee selected the top 16 seeds and made Georgia a host site for No. 13 Duke, bracketing principles made pairing Oregon with Washington or No. 15 seed Arizona State avoidable and No. 14 Kentucky was further away than No. 12 seed Texas.

There was outcry from across the Pac-12 about the seeding of the league’s teams. Washington players walked out of their team room immediately upon seeing they were the final national seed and Arizona coach Mike Candrea called the conference’s seeds a “travesty.”

Larsen explained that nonconference scheduling, which the committee understood was particularly challenging this year due to the pandemic, was a differentiating factor to evaluating team’s résumés. He conceded that due to travel and COVID regulations in different parts of the country, budgetary constraints and just one top 50 (Fresno State) and seven top 100 RPI nonconference opponents in the Mountain and Pacific time zones for Pac-12 teams to possibly schedule this season that there were finite options for teams in the conference.

However, No. 11 seed Arizona went 1-2 at No. 10 seed Florida State and lost at UCF (RPI 33) in March and No. 15 seed Arizona State lost to top-seeded Oklahoma, beat Iowa State and split with Baylor, all of which made the tournament field. The Wildcats and Sun Devils were rewarded with national seeds while Washington and Oregon, the second and third-place teams in the Pac-12, didn’t have any top 25 nonconference opponents.

“You don’t want to penalize teams for not being able to play games,” Larsen said, “but you also don’t want to penalize teams for being able to go out and play some of those games.”