March 29, 2006 -- Bracket-style national championships are well-known in the NCAA basketball world and will soon be second nature in the NCAA equestrian world as well.
The Varsity Equestrian Steering Committee recently announced that the 2006 Varsity Equestrian National Championship will take on the bracket-style format. The competition is April 20-22 at the EXPO New Mexico/State Fair Grounds in Albuquerque, N.M.
In the past, each individual competitor randomly drew their horse just before the competition and would then compete against riders from multiple universities. This style of competition did not allow schools to directly compete against one another as teams.
The new format will do just the opposite. Each team is seeded by the Varsity Equestrian National Championship Selection Committee according to regular season competition and strength of schedule, much like NCAA basketball. The teams are then placed into the bracket according to their seed. In each section of the bracket, two teams will compete against each other in a head-to-head competition using the same set of horses. This eliminates any luck-of-the-draw advantages or disadvantages.
For example, at this year's National Championships, Kansas State University and West Texas A&M University will go head-to-head in the western bracket as the No. 8 and 10 seeds, respectively. The winner from this competition will move through the winner's bracket to ride against the No. 1 western seed, Texas A&M University. Once again, the winner from this competition will advance through the winner's bracket and so on, until the national champions are named. The University of Georgia is the No. 1 seed in the hunt seat bracket.
The bracket-style format also will allow spectators to become more involved in the competition. Winners will be determined after each match, and fans will know exactly which teams are moving closer to the national championship title.
In 1998, NCAA Division I and II adopted legislation to identify equestrian as an emerging sport for women. Since then, the sport has gained in popularity among colleges and universities across the United States. In addition, the American Quarter Horse Association and the United States Equestrian Federation have teamed up to promote the competition and educate the industry about this growing sport.
"Shifting to the bracket style format for the championship is a positive step forward in the move to bring the NCAA equestrian program more in-line with other NCAA sports," said USEF CEO John Long, "all this while still upholding the industry standards of our great sport. It is a win for all involved. Not only will equestrian competitors benefit from the team environment, but the ease of understanding this format will bring new spectators to the sport."
Visit www.varsityequestrian.com to view the 2006 Western and English (Hunter Seat) brackets and for more information on NCAA Varsity Equestrian.