SHERIDAN — In the early years as head coach of the Sheridan College men’s basketball team, Matt Hammer hardly paid any mind to the weekly notices. Every Sunday during the season, the National Junior College Athletic Association emails blank resumes to each head coach of its member schools to fill out if the respective coach feels their team has a body of work worthy of top-25 recognition.
During his first three seasons, Hammer didn’t feel his Generals warranted a ranking. But not this year. Hammer has obliged and taken the time to respond with a detailed list of accomplishments. And since mid December, the Generals have sported a top-25 ranking.
The top 25 at the NJCAA level gets assembled a little differently than it does at the NCAA Division I level. First, each NJCAA head coach has the responsibility of sending in a weekly poll report that shows what his or her club did in the previous week.
The weekly poll report features categories such as overall record, record against league opponents, record against NJCAA Division I, II and III foes, and the scores of the respective teams’ games from the past week. Once those attributes get tabulated, the coach has until Monday at noon to send in the individual report. If the report isn’t submitted, the team isn’t considered for the national rankings that week.
Once all the individual reports are gathered, a 16-member panel made up of district representatives from throughout the country vote on the NJCAA poll. Each one of the 16 fills out a top 25 and sends it to the NJCAA national office in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
A first-place ranking receives 25 points, second garners 24, third 23 and all the way down to the No. 25 ranking that receives one point. The highest and lowest vote for each team are eliminated to prevent any outliers from drastically affecting the poll.
Ricky Webster, director of marketing and communications for the NJCAA, firmly believes the ranking system in place provides the clearest picture of the best teams in the country.
“The NJCAA prides itself on having the most knowledgeable voters on each of its sport-polling committees,” Webster said. “The process that is used to rank the Division I men’s basketball top 25 provides the most accurate rankings on a weekly basis. This in turn gives insight for our postseason tournament and leads to a high-level of competition year in and year out.”
Hammer understands the limitations and shortcomings of the polls at times but thinks they are constructed appropriately.
“I know it’s not as in-depth as Division I NCAA polls, but I think they do as well as they can with what they have,” Hammer said.
The one change Hammer would like to see is the NJCAA eliminating its preseason poll. With so much roster turnover, Hammer believes the NJCAA should wait and not release any rankings until teams have played a substantial number of games.
“For them to go out and do preseason rankings is kind of comical, I think,” Hammer said. “They just sort of, like NCAA Division I, have their blue-blood programs, and probably who finished well the prior season, at the top.”
Before December of this season, the 2013-14 preseason poll marked the last time the Sheridan men boasted a national ranking. Hammer realizes the importance of having a ranking positioned just left of his team’s name. It’s instant credibility and national recognition. Those two things play a large role in recruiting for Hammer and his staff and focusing the attention of prospective four-year colleges looking for top-level junior college talent.
“College coaches, Division I coaches, they want to recruit good players, and more times than not, they recruit good players from good teams,” Hammer said. “So being able to be recognized as one of the top 25 teams in the country is definitely something we try to sell to recruits. We let them know that they are going to get national recognition at this program.”
The end of Hammer’s weekends have gotten a tad bit busier this season. Instead of enjoying a lazy Sunday, Hammer sits down and fills out his weekly report, detailing how his team performed and sends it to the 16-member panel.
And for the last month and a half, the NJCAA ranking committee has found Hammer and his Generals worthy of recognition as one of the best teams in the country.