Tougher ticket: New NCAA rowing format will impact Clemson-hosted 2013 championship regatta

More automatic conference qualifiers will mean fewer at-large bids

Rowing coaches Melanie Onufrieff, Jessica Leidecker, Robbie Tenenbaum and Michelle Nance

Photo by Mark Crammer

Rowing coaches Melanie Onufrieff, Jessica Leidecker, Robbie Tenenbaum and Michelle Nance

When Clemson co-hosts the NCAA Rowing Championships at Lake Lanier in 2013, the current format of qualifying for that event - whether as an automatic qualifier, or else as an at-large selection - will no longer be in use.

Tiger rowing coach Robbie Tenenbaum is already weighing the ramifications of the overhaul, and offered some insight as to the nature of the changes.

“This next year, it’s still going to be the same way as it’s been in the past,” said Tenenbaum. “So the new AQ stuff won’t take effect until the 2013 NCAA Championships, and that’s when Clemson is co-hosting the NCAAs at Lake Lanier.

“Currently, there are sixteen teams that are selected for the NCAAs, and one team has to come from each of five regions, which is really never an issue, because there’s always somebody strong in each region. There are West, South, Central, Mid-Atlantic, and New England Regions. So one comes from each of those regions, and it’s based on complete-season racing results. Then, the NCAA women’s rowing committee selects the rest of the teams.

“For 2013, there are going to be some AQs, but there’s also a rule that you can’t have more than half of the field coming from AQs. So you can only have eight teams that come from AQs, and there are going to be more than eight conferences that have rowing.”

Where things become complicated is that some conferences have opted for realignment specifically in order to enhance their qualification prospects.

“In order to have a conference, you have to have six teams that compete at the conference championships,” Tenenbaum explained. “So if you have a conference championship and you only have five teams, then that doesn’t qualify you for an AQ. The other thing is that some conferences that didn’t have six teams have combined to make a conference.

“So Conference USA has nine teams, but it’s the Conference USA schools that row, the SEC teams that row, and the Big-12 schools that row. They’ve come together to make a conference, specifically to get an AQ.”

Though the exact format is still being hammered-out, Tenenbaum doesn’t discount the likelihood of a play-in scenario, though he also notes the potential drawbacks to that solution.

“When 2013 rolls around, they haven’t really finalized exactly how they’re going to do it, but most likely the committee may select seven conference AQs, and then if there are like three or four more, they might have a play-in situation,” he said. “So they’ll come to the site a few days earlier, and race to determine who gets that eighth AQ spot. And then the remaining spots will go to at-large bids like they do now.

“There’s a budgetary impact when you cap it at 16 teams, and then you decide to bring in three to five more teams to the championship site to do the play-in. That’s going to be incredibly expensive. They’ll have to decide if the NCAA is going to pay for the play-in, or if you’re going to have to come on your own dime, which would be really hard with one week’s notice.”

Tenenbaum’s overriding concern is how his own program could be affected.

“It’s going to make it much more difficult for Clemson,” he predicted. “Right now, for all intents and purposes, the top-sixteen programs go. Traditionally, the winners of the Pac-10, the ACC, the Big-10, and the Ivy League, have been competitive at the championship. In the future, there are probably going to be four schools that are going to make it to the championship that otherwise wouldn’t necessarily be in the top-sixteen. Which means that if you want one of those at-large slots, instead of being in the top-sixteen, you’re going to really need to be in the top-twelve. And if you want to really make sure you’re not on the bubble, you need to be in the top-ten or eleven.

“I don’t think the ACC is a conference that’s going to have to go to the play-in. There are a lot of things to work out, but for us, there are two things that we need to do to make sure that we can continue to compete at the NCAA Championships. Either we make sure that we can position ourselves as one of the top-ten or twelve programs in the country, or else, and also, we win our conference championship.”

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