Ringler: .500 rule valid but not necessary in women’s college golf

“Eat more chikin.” That’s what the cows will tell you in the popular advertising campaign run by Chick-Fil-A. Of course, that’s what the cows want and it’s obvious why.

When it comes to the .500 Rule in college golf, it’s a similar story of perspective.

If you live in the world of the power leagues, you would prefer not to have to worry about it. If you reside in the part that is looking up at those conferences, you want the rule. The power leagues are made up of the Pac-12, SEC, Big Ten, ACC and Big 12. These five conferences all rank as the top five leagues in men’s and women’s golf.

This year in the women’s game, six teams – Baylor, California, Tennessee, Oregon, Ohio State and Pepperdine – entered NCAA regional play with a won-loss record of less than 50 percent. Baylor was the lone team to advance out of regional play. The Bears came to Stillwater with 55-71-6 head-to-head record. That computes to a .433 winning percentage and that was with a 13-2-2 head-to-head record after finishing in a tie for third place at the NCAA Austin Regional.

It’s clear that Baylor was deserving, and the other five teams likely were worthy of a postseason spot as well. With the .500 Rule in place in the women’s game, they would not have played in regionals.

However, I believe the rule is not terrible for college golf. My take remains the same today as when it was introduced to the men’s game in 2007. The computer rankings are smart enough to figure out who the better teams are, with or without the 50-percent rule. Baylor is a perfect example this year. The Bears, ranked No. 26 in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings prior to the championship, made a run at Karsten Creek before falling in a playoff to Arizona.

The formulas certainly benefit from the wider range of opponents that teams see, but the overall exposure for the others seem to have been well worth it.

“It’s definitely helped the mid-majors because they are getting more exposure and opportunities,” Georgia coach Chris Haack said.

Haack also added that if he had his choice, he would not want it for the obvious reason of making sure you schedule correctly to stay above 50 percent. It can be annoying, which is why I often refer to the rule as that pesky .500 Rule.

Sure, you will hear those that say strength of schedule is a big deal when it comes to rankings. I won’t contest that simply because playing the best gives you a chance to beat those teams that are ranked ahead of you. But just because you may be below .500 does not mean you are not better and vice versa. Baylor is a walking billboard for that this year. The Bears played the top-rated schedule in the women’s game this year and head coach Jay Goble thinks that is why they are in the position they are in this week.

“I have always built my schedule around us playing the best teams,” Goble said. “My thinking is at the end of the year you want to beat the best you have to play against them. I would hate to have to change my schedule for that. I want to prepare them for this week. I don’t want to prepare them to have a .500 record against teams I feel we should beat.”

How did we get here?

The .500 Rule came about shortly after district allocations were eliminated from the men’s game. It was not out of the ordinary for top programs from the top leagues to travel in what some would call packs. This made access to playing against the better teams difficult.

I was in the room when this rule was discussed prior to the 2007-08 season. It was in Florida at the men’s coaches convention. A coach from a mid-major or lower level Division I program had said they sure would like the chance to play against Georgia, which happened to be the top team in the men’s game at the time.

Longtime Auburn coach Mike Griffin quickly spoke out to the room full of coaches: “Be careful what you wish for. We see them boys often and they’ll wear you out.”

Initially, it was an adjustment for the men. In that very first year, four teams missed the postseason, falling below .500 when the regular season concluded. Now 11 seasons in, we have only seen a total of 11 teams fall victim to the guideline. That’s just seven teams since that initial year.

Have the positives outweighed the negatives with this rule? I think so.

The biggest negative would be the demise of some of the top-tier events or at least the watering down of the field in those events.

“It has hurt some of those really elite events from continuing to be elite events,” Haack said.

No question it has helped grow the game for the majority of college golf.

“The .500 Rule has definitely made men’s golf deeper and stronger as a whole. You now hear about teams and players that you would not hear about because of the opportunity this rule has given.,” Louisiana Tech coach Matt Terry said.

Nobody would argue with that. Others see it as being sort of a check point within the game.

“The .500 rule has provided accountability in scheduling in men’s golf,” Colorado coach Roy Edwards said. “It eliminated the ability for programs to schedule their way to be ranked high enough to make the NCAA Regionals with little regard to their won-loss record. While the rule isn’t perfect and I understand the arguments against it, it has been a necessary check and balance for NCAA selections.”

Back to the women’s game. It’s now been 11 years on the men’s side and many would have predicted it to have been introduced in women’s game well before now. And it almost was. The thought was this season would have been the year, but an announcement last spring halted any thoughts.

A report from the NCAA addressed it this way: “Oversight committee members were concerned the change could negatively impact scheduling by potentially weakening, rather than strengthening, tournament fields and in turn hinder the sport rather than promote its growth.”

This did not seem to make much sense. Despite the overwhelming support from the coaching body, the comment in the report regarding the .500 Rule seemed a bit out of touch with what the rule has provided in the men’s game. Most feel like it has promoted growth.

A poll of Division I coaches conducted a few years ago by Golfweek still showed overwhelming support for the rule in the women’s game, and I too think it would do more good than harm. It does not look like it is coming anytime soon, and Baylor showed us why this week in Oklahoma.

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