New rule could keep Minn. out of NCAAs

The NCAA decided to make it mandatory for teams to have a .500 record to earn a berth.

It seems counterintuitive for a golf team to worry about its win-loss record, but thanks to a rule implemented last summer by the NCAA, that’s exactly what the Minnesota men’s golf team has to do.

The much-debated .500 rule was implemented last August, and requires that teams have an overall win-loss record above .500 to qualify for NCAA postseason play.

It may be difficult to grasp what a .500 record means in golf, but it looks something like this.

When the Gophers are at a tournament, their final place determines their record. They lose to teams that place higher and win against teams finishing lower. So if Minnesota ends up in fifth at a 15-team event, its record for the tournament is 10-4.

The main purpose of the .500 rule is to allow midmajor teams to compete against the nation’s elite more often. Top teams tend to play mostly against each other in order to prepare themselves for the NCAA Tournament, leaving smaller schools to quietly fight it out among each other while hardly being recognized.

The thought is that bringing more diverse fields together may allow overlooked teams to prove they can play with the NCAA’s best.

Naturally, the .500 rule has prompted mixed reactions from coaches.

Those who head midlevel programs such as Furman, James Madison, Eastern Kentucky and Liberty have told Golfweek magazine they favor the rule, mostly because it affords their teams the chance to break into and try to compete at events usually dominated by top-ranked squads.

But even though the .500 rule was favored by a 75-30 margin in a straw poll at the Golf Coaches Association of America Convention in January, those opposed to the rule have not been soft-spoken.

As might be expected, the majority of the dissent is coming from coaches and teams who intentionally create the most demanding schedule to try and prepare for the rigors of postseason play.

The Gophers fall squarely into the second category of teams, and their qualms about the impact of the .500 rule are many.

Associate coach Andrew Tank feels that teams choosing to dilute their schedules will be unfairly rewarded with an NCAA berth.

“I don’t like what it does for the development of players and the message that it sends to coaches and teams as far as scheduling – that they need to make sure they get enough wins,” he said.

Senior Clayton Rask and junior Victor Almstrom echoed that sentiment, but added their own concerns.

Rask believes some coaches may give young players less chances to develop in tournament play.

“I can definitely see coaches sticking with their older, experienced players when they may not be the best,” he said. “There could be younger guys that can play better than them, but I could see them being scared to take the chance of putting them in and having a bad week and dropping their record.”

And at an even more basic level, Almstrom worries that weaker competition will slow player development in general.

“I think if you’re going to get better as a team and an individual,” he said, “you have to play against the best.”