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College notebook: Regular-season subs delayed, and here’s why

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During the college golf season, GolfChannel.com will check in weekly to update what’s happening in the world of college golf.


The wait for season-long substitutions continues.

While subs are currently permitted in college golf for Division I men’s postseason and conference play (and women’s NCAA match play), they have yet to be allowed during the men’s regular season. That will remain the case until at least the fall of 2021.

In its December report, the NCAA Division I men’s golf committee cited that “while there continues to be interest in allowing substitutions for regular-season events, there were unintended consequences that had been brought to the golf committee’s attention that needed to be addressed prior to implementation.”

These “unintended consequences” include but are not limited to how subs could affect individual rankings, field sizes, program budgets and the already significant gap between elite teams and the rest of college golf.

“Every single time we’ve have some sort of discussion, some new concern that we haven’t thought of before comes up,” said Baylor head coach Mike McGraw, who serves as chairman for the NCAA’s Substitutions Working Group, which consists of 12 Division I coaches along with advisory members from Golfstat, the USGA and the Golf Coaches Association of America.

The SWG, which includes coaches on all sides of the substitution debate, is tasked with establishing guidelines around the implementation of substitutions for regular-season events. The group has already had several conference calls and met in-person twice, including most recently at December’s Coaches Convention in Las Vegas. They’ve had plenty to discuss and much feedback to collect.

Those in favor of subs believe teams should be protected if a player gets injured or sick, which was the original goal of subs after Texas was forced to play the 2016 NCAA final without injured Beau Hossler and lost to Oregon, 3-2. Last season, SMU was disqualified from a 26-team event after it was unable to replace an injured player and another player signed for an incorrect score in the final round.

Sub backers also cite the need for consistency between the regular season in postseason.

“Anything we’re doing in the postseason, we should be doing in the regular season,” said Texas A&M head coach J.T. Higgins, a proponent of regular-season subs. “They should mirror each other.”

The NCAA does not regulate regular-season competition like it does regionals and finals, which is why we see multiple formats (i.e. two- and three-day stroke-play events, shotgun and staggered starts, match-play events, foursomes events, 6-count-5, different field sizes, individuals). But when it comes to subs, the NCAA committee does prefer uniformity.

“When we enacted subs [for the postseason], the committee thought it was in the best interest of college golf to have our regular season as closely match our postseason as possible, and we are in the process of trying to figure out whether that’s actually possible or not,” said North Florida head coach Scott Schroeder, a member of the committee. “There’s a lot of moving parts.”

Here are the main sticking points:

Rankings

This is arguably the biggest hurdle.

Initially, the fix was simple. Golfstat would change the way it ranks individuals, switching to a round-by-round system instead of an entire tournament. While some tweaking needed to be done to reflect strength-of-field changes, there was optimism that the rankings of subbed players wouldn’t be adversely affected.

However, beginning this year, the World Amateur Golf Ranking made an opposite move, going to a tournament-based system. This means that if college golf moves forward with subs, players who are subbed in or out will have their amateur rankings negatively affected.

For example: If Player A is subbed out for Player B after the first round of a college tournament, Player A will take a loss to every player in the field for WAGR purposes while Player B will be treated as if he never participated.

“It’s ironic that technology is actually holding us up rather than helping us get through it,” Higgins said.

Some coaches argue that only elite players are worried about their amateur rankings and that those players would never be subbed out unless they are injured. To a certain extent, that is accurate; a player in the running for the McCormack Medal (top-ranked amateur), a U.S. Walker Cup automatic spot (top 3 Americans) or an exemption into the U.S. Amateur (top 50) likely isn’t getting taken out of a lineup by his college coach.

However, there are many other tournaments that pull much deeper from the WAGR pool when handing out exemptions. That includes the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball (top 400), Southern California Amateur (top 500), Texas State Amateur (top 700). The majority of college golfers are more likely to play those events anyways.

Golfstat is planning on running a beta test of its new rankings system next season, but regardless of those results, that still doesn’t solve the WAGR conundrum.

Field sizes

One proposed solution to the rankings conflict is having every team bring a player to compete as an individual. That individual would be the team’s substitute, and should he be inserted into the lineup, the subbed-out player would slot in as an individual.

Golfstat would still need to adjust strength of field for each round, but there would be no issues in how college scores translate to the world amateur rankings.

There is one problem, though. While some tournaments have slots for individuals, many do not. Adding an individual per team would increase field sizes past their thresholds.

“You can’t have the same number of teams,” McGraw said. “You basically go from 15 to 12. One coach asked me, ‘Have you done the math?’ So, I did the math: If 10 tournaments a week all went from 15 to 12 teams, that’s 30 teams that have to find another tournament. That’s three more tournaments a week.”

Plus, teams would have fewer head-to-heads per tournament, and when it comes to deciding which teams to cut out, the axe wouldn’t be dropped on the elite teams in the field. The mid-majors and lower-tier programs would be the ones getting squeezed out.

“I see it as window dressing to get to six-count-five,” said Colorado State head coach Christian Newton, who is against subs despite building a program that is currently ranked fourth in the country. “That’s completely changing the game, and it gives teams with more depth another advantage.”

Money

Speaking of advantages for bigger programs, the financial gap is one to consider when deciding whether or not to allow subs all season.

Yes, when to comes to the postseason, many of the smaller-budget schools can fundraise or ask for more money for one or two events, especially when we’re talking about a regional or the NCAA Championship.

But when you expand subs to the entire season, the majority of non-Power 5 programs – and even some of those teams – simply can’t afford to bring a sixth guy.

“It’s certainly a budgetary item for everyone, but more of a concern for smaller schools,” McGraw said.

An extra $700 or so a tournament doesn’t sound like much to a coach from the SEC or Pac-12, but for a coach from the MAC or Big West, it’s a tall ask.

Lack of widespread support

When it comes down to it, there just isn’t a majority backing among the nearly 300 Division I men’s programs. Many coaches support the idea, but many don’t, and others aren’t fans of those “unintended consequences.”

“It seems like a lot of effort and manipulation for something that I don’t even know why we’re thinking about it when our system isn’t broken to begin with. We already have a sub with five-count-four,” Newton said. “In theory, it sounded like a decent idea, but once you start thinking of the unintended consequences, I just don’t think it works.”

The GCAA sent out a poll to all of its Division I men’s members last week to gauge the support for regular-season subs – or lack thereof.

“If you’re vehemently opposed to subbing, then just don’t do it,” Higgins said. “But there’s definitely a push from people who don’t want it to happen, so it may not happen at all.”


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The five

1. On the heels of a winless fall and without its best player, Duke topped a loaded field by seven shots Tuesday at the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge, which featured eight of the top 10 teams in women’s college golf. The Blue Devils, ranked 12th after the fall, were missing junior All-American Jaravee Boonchant, who was slated to play in the now-postponed Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific, but junior Miranda Wang stepped up with her best career finish, a T-2. Click here to read more.

2. Pepperdine just keeps winning. Sporting another different lineup, this time without senior Josh McCarthy and sophomore Joe Highsmith, the Waves won their second tournament in as many spring events, capturing the Amer Ari Invitational on Saturday in Hawaii. Freshman William Mouw, who was relegated to an individual role in the spring opener, got his first collegiate victory, and Pepperdine established itself as the top-ranked team in Golfstat by beating several NCAA title contenders in Texas, Arizona State and Georgia Tech. Click here to read more.

3. This year was thought to be a transition year for the Northwestern women, and it certainly looked that way after the fall as the Wildcats didn’t finish better than ninth in four starts and entered the spring ranked 54th in Golfstat. But led by freshman Irene Kim’s first individual college win, Northwestern rallied to open the spring with a big victory Tuesday at the Lady Puerto Rico Classic. Kim was especially clutch down the stretch, making four birdies and an eagle in her final six holes. The Wildcats shot 8 under in the final round to finish at even par, six shots better than runner-up Texas Tech.

4. It was an interesting fall for Florida State junior John Pak. He missed the fall opener after playing in the Walker Cup. He then tied for 14th at Olympia Fields before the team participated in the Jack Nicklaus Invitational, a match-play event. Pak closed with a T-6 showing in the Bahamas, but it wasn’t enough to get him on the short list of Haskins Award contenders entering the spring. Maybe that changes after Tuesday. Pak fired two rounds of 6-under 66 and won the Mobile Sports Authority Intercollegiate by six shots at 15 under – his sixth college victory – while leading the Seminoles to their first victory of the season.

5. San Jose State’s Sean Yu earned the final spot in this week’s Genesis Invitational field after winning Monday’s Collegiate Showcase at Riviera Country Club.


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On tap

On the men’s side, the Gator Invitational and Puerto Rico Classic highlight the weekend slate while The Prestige headlines the upcoming Sunday-Tuesday action. The women’s calendar features a strong field at the Allstate Sugar Bowl Intercollegiate, which will be played Saturday-Monday in New Orleans.