Sports commentary: Too many opponents for Zips

“It wasn’t a blind bank shot 3-pointer from 23-feet nor was it a season full of late game collapses. It wasn’t a bad seeding, a bad schedule or a fielding a less talented team that derailed the University of Akron men’s soccer team’s season. It was the NCAA’s men’s soccer committee and Mother Nature.”

It wasn’t a blind bank shot 3-pointer from 23-feet nor was it a season full of late game collapses.

It wasn’t a bad seeding, a bad schedule or a fielding a less talented team that derailed the University of Akron men’s soccer team’s season. It was the NCAA’s men’s soccer committee and Mother Nature.

But it was just as mind boggling. Maybe worse.

The Zips, with a talent laden squad that features the should-be Harmon Trophy winner in Steve Zakuani, lost against luck and bad decision-making Sunday.

Akron won 17 games, was the National Soccer Coaches Association of America’s No. 2 team in the country two separate times this season, and was a team that yielded less than a half goal per game.

They beat national contenders at the beginning of the season and at the end. They won the Mid-American Conference regular season and tournament.

And none of it mattered.

The Zips were given the No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament, which guaranteed two home games if they won the first.

After weather conditions moved Wednesday’s second-round tilt against Ohio State to St. Vincent-St. Mary’s High School, UA head coach Caleb Porter was told his team wouldn’t be playing at home Sunday because Lee Jackson Field was unplayable.

Even though it was still four days away. Even though they had the second-best record in the country and even though their record was good enough to earn that right. Once the committee made its decision, there is no appeal process.

The weather apparently wasn’t much better in Evanston, Ill. Freezing rain and 20 mile-per-hour wind gusts doesn’t sound much better. Worse, Porter said he talked to a groundskeeper who told him the field was definitely playable on Sunday.

I think it’s a travesty that our team was stripped of that right when we worked so hard to gain it, Porter said.

When Porter calls the decision mind-boggling and unfair he’s not whining or not trying to make the loss look better. In fact, he’s adamant about not using it as a crutch or a reason they lost. He repeatedly said so and he’s half right.

His team was a true national-championship contender, better, some people think, than the 2005 team that went to the national quarterfinals and lost to Maryland, the eventual national champion, in a double-overtime shootout.

The Zips did lose fairly to Northwestern Sunday. They slipped and let a shot hit the back of the net and couldn’t break through the Wildcat’s defense.

But it’s a tainted loss because the Zips were, as Porter points out, put in a worst position than a team that was unseeded.

Because the loss was tainted, in some ways the tournament itself is.

The goal of any tournament or playoffs, even the BCS, is to determine the best team in the country.

When they take a home game away from a team that played all season long for the chance to play at home in that game, it has to be tainted.

The team with what the committee itself deemed to be an inferior season was rewarded.

Porter also correctly points out that the progress the Zips made this season and in the last four, the best four year run in program history, going 63-12-11.

They’ll be ranked in the top three at the beginning of next season and challenge for the national championship all season. And with the young core returning, and one of the best recruiting classes in the country coming in (again), they won’t just compete next year but will be a power for years, if Porter stays on.

Upsets do happen, especially in college athletics, and the better team doesn’t always advance in the tournament (see Doug Penno reference at the top of the story).

But to not give them the advantage they deserved by letting them play at Lee Jackson, or if it wasn’t playable, at St. V’s again is truly mind-boggling.