Tonight’s match between CSUN and UC Irvine will be the final conference game for the Matadors this regular season, and with a victory the team will not only have an undefeated record in the Big West, but will also earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament with a likely first-round bye.
The Matadors are ranked as high as No. 11 in national polls. A victory tonight would give CSUN another quality win and potentially put the team among the top-10 teams in the country. Regardless, a victory assures the Matadors a berth in the 47th annual Division I Men’s Soccer Championship, starting Nov. 18.
If the selection committee chooses CSUN as one of the top 16 teams in the country, the Matadors could win a first-round bye and also play their first game at home.
“As of now, my guess is we are sitting in a place to get a first-round bye,” said men’s soccer head coach Terry Davila.
Although everything seems to be falling into place, there are several gray areas that could not only keep CSUN from hosting a NCAA Tournament game, but also prevent the team from winning the Big West Conference title.
The possible scenarios for a CSUN Big West championship and an automatic Tournament berth are as follows: If CSUN beats UC Irvine, the Matadors are champions of the Big West and earn an automatic bid.
If the Matadors lose tonight to the Anteaters and UCI loses or ties UC Santa Barbara on Nov. 12, CSUN wins the Big West.
If UCI beats CSUN tonight, however, and then goes into Harder Stadium and knocks off the No. 23 Gauchos on Nov. 12, the situation grows more complex.
CSUN and UCI would then have identical 8-1-1 conference records. The Big West’s answer for this situation is a hierarchy of criterion. The first area for comparison is the two teams’ head-to-head record, and if CSUN lost to the Anteaters, who then won out, the two records would stay the same.
The next area for comparison is the goal differential between CSUN and UCI against one another. In the first meeting of this season on Oct. 19, CSUN beat UCI 2-1 at Matador Soccer Field, resulting in a single goal differential between the two teams.
If CSUN loses tonight to UCI by more than one goal, then UCI would own the tiebreaker. If the Anteaters win, but by the same margin CSUN did three weeks prior, then the tie would remain and the next area of comparison would apply.
The next tie-breaking opportunity within the hierarchy is conference away goals scored. In that area, CSUN and UCI are currently in a deadlock, with eight conference away goals each.
Should this scenario play out, the team with the higher number of conference away goals would take the Big West title.
But if the two teams tie in this category as well, then the Big West Champions fate rests solely on the outcome of a coin flip.
“It would be sad if it got to that point,” Davila said. “But I have thought about that possibility.”
While some would question the validity of staking the outcome of a conference title on a coin toss, the focus Davila said his team possessed suggests that a conference title is likely.
If the Matadors close out the Big West tonight, CSUN will undoubtedly secure a home game in the NCAA Tournament, something that Davila said he feels is very important.
“We deserve an NCAA home game,” Davila said. “CSUN deserves it – the community deserves it and the fans deserve it. The fans really get behind us.”
Although it is important to understand the possibilities for the future of the Matadors, Davila stressed the importance of first beating a team like UCI.
“We have to take care of business tonight,” Davila said. “We’d be foolish not to take it one game at a time. Irvine is hungry. They want their first NCAA Tournament berth, so it will have the feel of a playoff-type game.”
If all goes to plan and CSUN picks up the conference victory tonight, fans should expect a first-round bye and the first NCAA Tournament game for CSUN to be at Matador Soccer Field on Nov. 22 in the afternoon, with time TBA.
Regardless of tonight’s game, the tournament selection show will air live on CSTV Nov. 14. at 1 p.m.
Matt Osias can be reached at email@example.com.