HILTON HEAD ISLAND, Ga. – A major change is coming to NCAA Division I women’s golf.
The NCAA notified coaches via email last week that the competitions oversight committee has approved the .500 rule, which is set to go into effect starting with the 2024-25 season.
The .500 rule, which has been used in the men’s game since 2007-08, requires that teams finish the regular season, including conference play, with a .500 or better head-to-head winning percentage against Division I opponents to be eligible for regional play. The one exception, of course, is if a team wins its conference title to grab the automatic bid.
Mark Bedics, the NCAA's associate director of championships for D-I women's golf, told GolfChannel.com that the COC asked the women's golf committee to revisit the .500 rule, which didn't pass a vote back in 2016. So, the committee sent out a survey to head coaches and assistants from all 269 D-I programs in early January; they received responses from about 75% of coaches with over 70% of that number voting in favor of the .500 rule.
The COC approved the rule this month and sent an email to coaches notifying them of the coming change.
"We thought it was a high response rate," Bedics, "so committee felt it was in the best interest of the sport. It opens up opportunities. There are coaches who say there's no way their teams can get inside the bubble even if they win every event. This opens up scheduling a little bit and could allow some teams to maybe get invitations to some tournaments to compete against teams that they normally wouldn't."
Though the majority of mid-major coaches argue similarly, the .500 rule is mostly unpopular with top-50 programs. Opponents of the rule, many of whom have teams competing at this week's Darius Rucker Intercollegiate (six top-10 teams are playing, as well as individuals from Howard), counter that it doesn't really achieve its desired goal while creating scheduling headaches and reducing the amount of truly elite fields.
"I think we're fixing what's not broken," said Alabama head coach Mic Potter, who notes that when his squad finished 14th at nationals and Emma Talley won the individual title in 2015, the team was below .500.
"I've always been opposed to it," Potter added, "and I would hate to think it's because we've been a national champion and have been competitive. I just worry about the individual players and the competition they're getting. ... I just want to be able to comfortably put our girls out there against the best players week in and week out."
Said Arkansas head coach Shauna Estes-Taylor: "I think it's sad to see. I think there's some freedom to your schedule that's been great to have, giving your student athletes an opportunity to play all over the place and not really have to focus on who's going to be in the field, who's ranked what, and can I beat them; if you just set your schedule and play the best golf that you can, you give your team the best preparation that they can have."
Currently, there are about a dozen women's teams in the top 60 of Golfstat that are either below or just above .500, including Arkansas and Duke, which is also playing the Darius.
On the men's side, where only a few teams are affected by the rule each season (last season, Alabama and Baylor both were ranked high enough to get into a regional but were ineligible because they had sub-.500 records), there is a huge push from top coaches to get rid of the rule.
Baylor head coach Jay Goble said he talked to one top-20 men's coach who told him that he schedules four really good events and the rest he "waters down to get wins."
"They're trying to do away with it and it's funny that we're now trying to do it," Goble said. "I don't see that it's worked there."
Goble also noted the unfairness of a pure vote, as the number of teams that don't consistently make the postseason far outnumber the top teams. Georgia head Josh Brewer was upset that there was no formal rubbuttal period.
"We've been fighting it for a decade," Brewer said. "We have data, and it's there. ... Teams ranked 150 and below think they need it to get in good tournaments. They just need to get better."
Brewer presented another potential issue: With coaches essentially scheduling blind with limited ability to drop/add events, there is a chance that coaches looking for new events with easier fields to get wins could find themselves scheduling many of the same events as other top coaches, therefore negating the strategy.
"They gotta answer that," Brewer said. "I sign up to play my former assistant's event, Georgia Southern's event. I'm playing schools ranked 70-140. I need wins. All of a sudden I look at field and it has a bunch of top-10 teams. It's like if Georgia thinks they're playing Alabama State in football. They get the University of Alabama instead. That's not very fair.
"This is the only sport where you sign up to play events not knowing who you play."
Bedics responded, "We haven't had that conversation, but not to say that we couldn't." John Baldwin, the NCAA's managing director of championships and alliances added that he hasn't seen such a scenario on the men's side yet.
Arizona State head coach Miss Farr-Kaye hosts an event every spring. This past season, she invited Harvard to her tournament, which consistently has a long waiting list.
She argued that unlike the men's game, there aren't a variety of good events for top teams to play throughout the season.
"My advise would be if you are a team that really wants to get opportunties, find a golf course, put on a great tournament, and you're going to get a great field because we are hurting for great tournaments," Farr-Kaye said. "If only we had more opportunity to pick and choose our events – our men's teams, in any given week they can pick between two or three good events.
"... It is what it is. I just really hope we don't change our schedule tremendously because of it. We'll see if it really does what people want it to do, and hopefully it does."
Bedics has heard the criticism, and here's his message: "The pushback has always been from those who don't want to weaken their schedules. We're talking one tournament, maybe two."