COLUMBIA — The NCAA selection committee meets in a closed room. Dozens of tournament resumes are carefully reviewed. All of the teams’ records, Ratings Percentage Indexes, and stats are put up on the board for scrutiny. Finally, the committee selects the field of 64 for the NCAA Division I women’s soccer tournament, as well as the 16 schools that get to host first and second round games.
This November ritual is similar to the men’s basketball version in March, except without Digger Phelps.
For the third time since the program’s inception in 1996, Missouri was selected to the tournament. For the third time, Missouri was selected as a first- and second-round host.
Missouri is one of three host schools not seeded in the top four of a regional. The top four teams in each of the four 16-team regionals are seeded. The Tigers were selected as a host based on a number of criteria, such as the quality of Missouri’s facilities and Missouri’s experience hosting NCAA championship events.
Missouri will look to use the home field to its advantage. The Tigers are 7-2 at home this year and 6-5 in matches played everywhere else. Missouri coach Bryan Blitz said the best teams win at home and benefit from the routine of playing at home.
“Consistently across the country good teams defend their home field,” Blitz said. “...Players are going to class, not traveling, sleeping in their own beds.”
Blitz said the selection of host sites is based on many things. He said Missouri was selected for its quality facilities, commitment from the athletic department, community support and success on the field. Although Missouri did not receive a top-four seed, Blitz noted Missouri was “ranked in the top 25 all year and played a tough schedule.”
Missouri’s Walton Soccer Stadium was completed in 1998. All three of Missouri’s NCAA Tournament games have been played there. In 1999 Missouri lost 3-2 in quadruple overtime to Marquette in the first round. In 2003, the Tigers defeated Eastern Illinois 1-0 before losing 2-0 to Kansas in the second round.
The Missouri athletic department submitted a bid to host the tournament games a month before the end of the regular season. Director of game operations Colleen Engelhard said the bid includes a facility evaluation. The facility evaluation involves things like making sure the field lighting is up to NCAA requirements. For the bid, the athletic department also had to put hotel rooms on hold to make sure there would be accomodations should Missouri be chosen as a host.
Engelhard said that in addition to Missouri’s quality soccer stadium, it was chosen because Missouri has hosted multiple NCAA championship events in the past.
“I think we have a good reputation within the NCAA hosting Olympic sporting events,” Engelhard said. “We hosted a track and field regional, we’ve hosted numerous volleyball regionals as well as softball. We have a reputation that we do a good job.”
Missouri has also recently hosted NCAA Tournament baseball games.
Engelhard also said Missouri’s attendance helped get the university selected as a host. Missouri set a program record this regular season for per game attendance.
The selection committee also matches up other schools to play at the host sites, trying to limit the distance teams travel when possible.
“When paring teams, the committee is restricted by geographic proximity,” a release on the NCAA’s Web site said. “Sites are selected for the first and second rounds to create the least number of flights.
The other teams selected to play in Columbia are Southeast Missouri State University, Creighton University, and the University of Southern California. With its No. 2 seed, USC is the highest-seeded team of the four playing in Columbia, but it travels much farther than any of the other schools. USC coach Ali Khosroshahin said his team just plays wherever the NCAA selection committee sends them.
“That’s where the NCAA said we’re going, so we’re here,” Khosroshahin said.
Engelhard said No. 1 seed UCLA, which like USC is located in Los Angeles, was selected as a host and the selection committee is unlikely to have two opening round sites in such close proximity to each other. Also, the winners of the first round games at a host site play each other in the second round at the same location, so each site only has one team seeded in the top four of the regional.
The first round games will be played tonight. No. 9 USC, an at-large selection, will play Creighton, the Missouri Valley Conference champion, at 4 p.m. No. 23 Missouri (13-7), another at-large selection, will play Southest Missouri State, the Ohio Valley Conference champion, at 7 p.m. The winners play in the second round Sunday at 1 p.m. for a berth in the Sweet Sixteen.
Third round sites and dates will be announced later.