UB women’s soccer led the MAC East in wins and RPI during the regular season, but will be left out of the conference title game due to a bylaw typo and COVID-19 ramifications.
The Bulls went 6-1-1 to finish atop the MAC East, but Bowling Green (5-1) received a bid to take on Ball State in the MAC title game because they have a better winning percentage. The Falcons missed their last four games — including an April 4 contest against Buffalo — due to COVID-19 protocols and subsequent contact tracing.
UB defeated Bowling Green, 2-1, on March 14 in the only match between the two teams this season.
The Bulls had arguably their most talented roster since their 2014 NCAA Tournament appearance this season. The team has been ranked regionally for multiple weeks and has the highest rating percentage index (RPI) — a tool used to measure a team’s wins and losses and strength of schedule — in the conference, which ranks 40th in the nation. They are tied with Ball State and Eastern and Western Michigan for the most wins in the conference and finished on a four-game winning streak to end the season.
Burke, who was a member of a MAC sports working group committee before the season began, says committee-members decided to exhibit “flexibility and fluidity” when approaching the season.
But, he says, the conference hasn’t stood by its commitment to flexibility.
Makeup games were supposed to be conducted from April 14-15, right before the MAC Championship Game. But Burke says a typo in the women’s soccer bylaws placed those makeup dates from April 7-11 — an impossible period, since BGSU was on pause and UB was still playing its regularly scheduled games.
“That was the message all along,” Burke said. “We talked about this week starting April 12 being an open week for makeup games and now to just completely switch gears and say nobody’s allowed to make up games is an absolute shock to me.”
Defending champion Bowling Green has been a dominant force in the conference over the past few seasons, but Burke believes his team deserves a chance to play them in a makeup game.
“It’s very disheartening,” Burke said. “Yeah, we can go there and lose, but as an athlete, that’s all you want. You just want an opportunity to be competitive and let the play on the field decide the outcome. We did our best to make sure our team wasn’t punished but it turns out that the teams that didn’t have to pause due to COVID-19 are the ones hurt in all of this.”
Burke says he doesn’t fault Bowling Green for their situation.
He says the Falcons played the minimum six games required to compete for the MAC title and followed their county’s COVID-19 rules, but that they were essentially rewarded for their COVID-19 pause from March 29 to April 11 by not having to face the Bulls in a makeup game.
Senior midfielder and team captain Marcy Barberic doesn’t want her team’s stellar season to be taken away because of a conference error.
“It’s just really frustrating,” Barberic said. “Everybody is frustrated that we aren’t being given this opportunity for the makeup game when there’s this whole week to reschedule. The conference isn’t letting us do that, but also not giving an explanation as to why we can’t.”
The women’s team knew of the conference’s typo three days before their final regular season game of the season against Ohio, so they went into it feeling as if they had something more to play for.
“Our main focus was to make a statement,” Barberic said. “We wanted to show that our program was really strong and that even though we’re faced with this adversity and know we can’t do anything about it, we’re still going to step out on that field and fight for the win, and that’s what we did.”
Last year, the MAC decided to remove the conference tournament in women’s soccer for budgetary reasons. This season, the top team in each division advanced to the MAC title game — the winner goes to the NCAA Tournament — as opposed to eight teams battling it out in a tournament to advance, as has been done in years’ past.
Barberic says this wouldn’t have been a problem had the MAC not changed its tournament format.
“Yeah, that’s the main purpose of all of us speaking out and voicing our opinions,” Barberic said. “We want to advocate to get our tournament back for the fall season because having a conference tournament solves this current problem. It would give the players the opportunity to leave it all on the field rather than having someone in a conference room decide who advances and who doesn’t.”
UB had its own COVID-19 issue early in the season when they traveled to Ohio to face Kent State. The Bulls were without three of their starters and dropped the game, 1-0, for their only loss of the season.
The Bulls are still hoping for an at-large bid to the 48-team NCAA tournament.
“Our first game on the road was against Kent State and we had one player test positive and two others out due to contact tracing and ultimately lost,” Burke said. “But since then, we haven’t lost a game and have gone seven games unbeaten. That was our COVID-19 setback and yet here we are, unable to play.”
Hunter Skoczylas is the assistant sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @HunterSkoczylas
Hunter Skoczylas is the assistant sports editor for The Spectrum. In his free time, he can be found looking up random sports statistics, posting memes on Twitter, and dedicating his Sunday afternoons to watching the Buffalo Bills.