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New substitution rule debuts for match play

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SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – For the first time, substitutions will be allowed for any reason during the match-play portion of the NCAA Championship.

But no one is coming off the bench – yet.

Twenty-three of the 30 teams in this week’s field brought a sixth player to Rich Harvest Farms. That sub could practice and walk the course but not play a practice round.

In January, the NCAA announced that substitutions would only be allowed during match play – a reaction to what happened at last year’s NCAAs, where Texas star Beau Hossler injured his shoulder in the semifinals and was unable to compete in the championship match. The Longhorns conceded his point and lost to Oregon.

Of the eight teams still remaining here, Vanderbilt, Southern Cal and UNLV did not bring a sixth player.

USC “never even talked” about adding another man to the travel roster, even though the NCAA footed the bill.

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“We travel with five all year and have had success with that model, so we didn’t think it was necessary to change it up,” Trojans coach Chris Zambri said.

Oklahoma’s Ryan Hybl was instrumental in bringing substitutions to men’s college golf, so of course he has a sixth player here this week – match-play specialist Quade Cummins. Hybl warned his team when the NCAA decision was made that he would not hesitate to change out his roster between stroke play and match play, or even between the quarterfinals and semifinals.

“Whoever gives us the best chance to win,” he said.

Illinois coach Mike Small said that it was a no-brainer to bring an extra body, especially given the fluky circumstances surrounding Hossler’s injury a year ago. He added, however, that he would never swap out a player for performance reasons – how can they learn to handle adversity if they’re not given the chance? – but could conceivably make a change because of injury, attitude or effort.

Even though the pairings are determined earlier, a coach can substitute a player as late as 10 minutes before the beginning of a match.

Adding substitutes to the regular season remains an uphill battle, but Hybl is confident that it’ll eventually be implemented. Among the obstacles: How to handle individual results, the budget differences between powerhouses and smaller schools, and coaches who believe that a player’s development is hindered if they’re always at risk of being benched.