It’s a change that has been discussed for years, and it’s finally coming to Division I women’s college golf.
The NCAA competitions oversight committee approved the .500 rule, and the NCAA notified coaches last week that the changes would go into effect for the 2024-25 season. The .500 rule requires a team to finish the regular season with a .500 or better winning percentage head-to-head against other Div. I opponents to be eligible for regionals. The lone exception is if a team wins its conference title. Div. I men’s college golf has had the .500 rule since 2007-08.
Mark Bedics, the NCAA’s associate director of championships for Div. I women’s golf, said the COC recently asked the women’s golf committee to revisit the .500 rule, which didn’t pass a vote in 2016. The committee sent a survey to head coaches and assistants from all 269 D-I programs in early January. About 75 percent of coaches responded. Of that number, more than 70 percent of that number voted in favor.
“The COC came back and said to women’s golf that they were the only sport that didn’t have a .500 rule and asked them to explain why not,” Bedics told Golfweek. “We asked why women’s golf needed to be different from every other sport, and there was no compelling reason why. Therefore, they passed it.”
Campbell women’s coach John Crooks was one of the coaches pushing most for the rule change. He said the rankings will be more accurate now with more teams getting the recognition they deserve instead of those with losing records being invited to regionals.
“Adopting the .500 rule is great news for women’s golf,” Crooks said. “Finally, the NCAA Committee addressed the issue with fresh new eyes. I would personally like to thank the committee members for doing the right thing.”
Courtney Gunter is the head women’s coach at Western Carolina, a mid-major, and she played collegiately at North Carolina. She has a unique perspective from both sides. Gunter said the .500 rule could keep her team in a strange middle area, but she’s a proponent of the rule.
“I believe the .500 (rule) has been long overdue in our sport,” she said. “Year after year we see at least one team, many times more, getting an at-large bid to regionals based on their schedule and not how they actually performed.
“Spots at regionals shouldn’t be taken by teams that don’t have a .500 record. It’s not fair to teams just outside that magic number that have shown they are worthy and have a great chance at making a run in post season.”
One of the most significant changes will be how teams make their schedules. It means there’s likely to be more mixing between Power-5 opponents and mid-majors.
“I think we all recognize that there will be some changes to scheduling, and it will be interesting to see how everyone manages it,” Wisconsin coach Todd Oerhlein said. “More head-to-head connections between teams should only improve the accuracy of the rankings.”
Added James Madison coach Tommy Baker: “The .500 rule being passed will undoubtedly allow for more of an equal playing field as it pertains to qualifying as an ‘at-large’ selection for postseason play. I am not aware of any other sport that allows teams with under .500 win/loss record to play in postseason, so it’s a no brainer on that front alone. It gets tougher every season trying to bolster our strength of schedule, and this should allow for more flexibility and opportunities moving forward. I understand and respect the concerns voiced by my colleagues at Power 5 institutions but feel this creates more opportunities than it does deny them.”
Pepperdine coach Laurie Gibbs, who is in her 30th season at the helm and has guided the Waves to 12 NCAA Championship appearances, said the change shouldn’t affect teams ranked in the top 30, nor will it impact the NCAA Championship field.
“There are some excellent tournaments that will begin to rotate a few invitations each year and provide more opportunities for mid-major teams and student-athletes to play,” Gibbs said.
Of the top-50 teams in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, five have a winning percentage below .500 as of Feb. 24: Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, California and Alabama.
UCLA coach Carrie Forsyth is in favor of the changes, and she said arguments made against the .500 rule by top programs sound like coaches trying to protect themselves and their tournament schedules.
“Most top programs don’t want to have to compete in weaker fields just to ensure they can make it to postseason, but that’s what is likely to happen,” Forsyth said. “Ultimately, women’s golf was the last NCAA sport that did not have a .500 rule in place, and we could not justify that position any longer in the current climate. We already play a mixed bag of super-strong field events and mid-range events. I don’t see us making any changes to what we do because of this new rule. But some programs may need to rethink their scheduling.”
Mid-major programs have long clamored for more opportunities, and this will undoubtedly give them those. East Tennessee State coach Stefanie Shelton said similar to increasing the amount of teams at the NCAA Championships to 30, this is a step forward for women’s college golf.
“I believe the depth of competitive teams in NCAA women’s golf is deeper than ever, and I am pro-opportunities for the ladies,” Shelton said. “I believe this move will open a lot of doors for mid-majors.”
Teams won’t have to reshape their entire schedules. It’s likely only two or three tournaments, if even, will be switched up. And in some cases, none.
However, come 2024-25, the .500 rule will finally be in women’s college golf.
“Hopefully this opens up opportunities for teams and student-athletes to experience more courses and visit areas of the country they haven’t been, as well,” Bedics said.