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NCAA Looks to Trim Division III Playoffs

10:20AM / Saturday, August 09, 2014
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While the national media this week focused on news about paying college players and realigning big-time Division I athletics, a major decision announced on Friday could have ramifications for the athletic programs at Williams College, the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Southern Vermont College and about 500 other Division III colleges and universities.
On Friday, the Division III Presidents Council endorsed five recommendations from the Division III Management Council that will cut a projected $2 million from the division’s championships budget, according to a news release on the NCAA's website.
Among the changes that could be on the horizon: increased fees for DIII members and decreased fields for national championships at the DIII level.
Read the full news release here:
The Division III Presidents Council endorsed five recommendations from the Division III Management Council that will cut a projected $2.17 million from the division’s championships budget. All of the measures pertain to championships travel policies; four of them are effective immediately. The proposal that necessitates a three-day window between championships selections and the first date of competition will go into effect in 2015-16.  
All of the measures pertain to championships travel policies; four of them are effective immediately. The proposal that necessitates a three-day window between championships selections and the first date of competition will go into effect in 2015-16.  
The proposals were initially crafted via collaboration between the Division III Championships and Strategic Planning and Finance committees. While the cuts will help combat a projected budget shortfall of $2.5 million in the 2014-15 academic year, the council noted at its Aug. 7 meeting in Indianapolis that these are only preliminary steps in the long march to achieving a balanced budget.
The Division III Presidents Advisory Group discussed ways to balance the budget over the long term when it convened on the eve of the council meeting. The group, which is composed of representatives from each of Division III’s 43 conferences, endorsed the recommended championships reductions. Some members also suggested examining cuts to non-championships spending, which is primarily composed of grant programs and accounts for 25 percent of the division’s budget.
The advisory group also endorsed the concept of relying on membership funding to support championships and other programs through a dues increase or targeted championships assessment. Membership dues, currently $900 a year per school and $450 per conference, haven’t been adjusted since 1985 and are far lower than schools are accustomed to paying for membership in other organizations.
The advisory group stressed that presidents would likely be amenable to providing increased annual funding, either at a flat rate or at rates that slide based on criteria such as enrollment, school budget or size of athletics program. With approximately 500 dues-paying schools and conferences in the division, a targeted rate hike could make a significant impact on the efforts to balance the budget, advisory group members argued.
The budget discussion will continue this fall, leading up to the Division III Issues Forum at the 2015 Convention. That session will include a comprehensive review of the division’s budget resources, policies and process, as well as short-term and long-term budget options identified by the championships and finance committees including the benefits and drawbacks of adjusting the division’s championships access ratio.
“We’re going to have to make several adjustments,” said Alan Cureton, president of the University of Northwestern – St. Paul, vice chair of the presidents council and chair of the strategic planning and finance committee. “So when we asked the presidents advisory group, they threw out a variety of options. …We’re going to take a really hard look at everything, but we also want feedback from the Association and the membership as to what they think we should do.”
On-campus evaluations
In July, the management council opted not to sponsor a legislative recommendation from the Division III Recruiting Working Group that would permit on-campus athletic evaluations. The management council made the decision despite encouragement from the membership, via survey and straw poll results, that such a proposal be brought to the 2015 Convention floor.
The presidents council voted to sponsor the legislation, though it did not offer its full support for the rule. Those in favor argued it would make life easier for coaches, while those in opposition noted that those burdens, namely the time and money required for travel, would be passed to prospective student-athletes. Though council members didn’t formally endorse the proposal, they sponsored it in order to ensure it would be added to the 2015 Convention legislative agenda, fostering discussion among members and, ultimately, giving them the opportunity to decide the rule’s fate.
“The presidents council can see the pros and cons of both sides, but we’re really interested in what the membership thinks,” Cureton said. “And we have no idea which way it is going to go, but this is the beauty of our Association. It’s membership-driven, so we want to know what they think about this.”
Reduction in number of contests
The council voted to co-sponsor proposed legislation – initially sponsored by the Old Dominion Athletic Conference and the Centennial Conference – that would reduce the maximum number of in-season contests (or dates of competition, depending on the sport) by up to 10 percent. The reduction would apply to nearly every sport, save for those with only a handful of contests such as football (10) and cross country (9).
The conferences brought the proposal forward in hopes of limiting costs and ensuring that student-athletes can devote more time to academics and other extracurricular endeavors. The proposal wouldn’t shorten the overall length of the playing season, but simply eliminate a few contests – particularly those played midweek that disrupt classes – within the current timeframes allotted for sports’ regular seasons.
The presidents council debated the merits of the proposal and, ultimately, voted to co-sponsor it, arguing that it would be beneficial to student-athletes because it would ease their athletics burdens.
“Our concern as presidents was the fact that students were being drawn away during the week,” Cureton said. “The idea is to protect the students’ time so that they have what they need in the classroom and aren’t spending it out on the road or away from campus because of athletic contests.”
Other actions
The council sponsored convention legislation that would add women’s sand volleyball as a sport in Division III and establish a National Collegiate Championship for the sport. The first sand volleyball championship would tentatively be scheduled to be held in 2016. The council noted that National Collegiate Championships do not have an impact on Division III’s budget.
Currently, schools hoping to join Division III must take part in a five-year membership process, which includes an exploratory year and four provisional years. Last month the management council, per a recommendation by the Division III Membership Committee, endorsed legislation that would permit schools that have demonstrated a commitment to the Division III philosophy and clearly meet sports sponsorship and financial aid requirements to skip the exploratory year and take part only in the four-year provisional process. The presidents council voted to sponsor this legislation for the 2015 Convention.
The presidents advisory group discussed potential reforms to the nontraditional segment (offseason) at length given that membership-sponsored legislation calling for greater practice opportunities in spring football will be up for vote at the 2015 Convention.
A majority of the presidents in attendance voiced concern about the time demands and expenses associated with the current nontraditional segment, and expressed a willingness to consider a new nontraditional model. Those presidents felt that a new model might better preserve the benefits of the current nontraditional segment, while enhancing the ability of student-athletes to have a diverse academic, athletic and extracurricular life on campus.
Others countered, noting that the popularity of the current nontraditional model with student-athletes and coaches, and their belief that the model encourages student-athletes to flourish athletically and academically. The presidents council will tackle this topic in greater depth when it reconvenes in the fall and the membership will engage in a review of the current nontraditional season model at the 2015 Convention Division III Issues Forum.
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