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DII explores changes to championship bracketing model

Working group, Championships Committee look to reduce conference matchups

Division II athletics administrators are taking a close look at the model for bracketing Division II championships to enhance the experience for teams playing in early tournament rounds.

A working group of athletics directors and conference commissioners has been tasked with leading the review, with a focus on reducing the number of in-conference opponents that meet in the first round of team-sport championship tournaments. The group met Monday in Indianapolis for a daylong summit in which members analyzed current processes and brainstormed potential modifications. Their ideas were then shared with the Division II Championships Committee, which met Tuesday and Wednesday.

While all ideas are preliminary concepts, the working group was particularly interested in one model that would allow certain seeds to be adjusted to avoid a first-round conference matchup. Under this model, the regional advisory committees for each sport would continue to recommend the order of teams for rankings and selections, and the national sport committees would then have the flexibility to make small bracket adjustments as needed. The working group and the Championships Committee are considering various parameters for this model, such as protecting only the No. 1 seed from adjustments, protecting both the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds, or allowing adjustments only for the Nos. 3-7 seeds. The groups are seeking feedback on the model over the coming months.

Many Division II members have expressed concerns about the frequency at which teams from the same conference meet in early rounds of a team-sport championship tournament, stating that such matchups decrease the championship experience for those teams that already have played multiple times that season. Data from the past five years of Division II championships reveal that conference matchups in the first round occur about one-third of the time.

The division’s bracketing processes are shaped by its regionalization model, which is based on the principle that every region should have access to championships. Regionalization policies encourage Division II schools throughout the season to compete against opponents in their region, in part to manage travel costs and missed class time for student-athletes. For championship tournaments, sport committees evaluate and select participants based on regional results rather than a national evaluation.

The guiding philosophies of regionalization are ingrained in the review of the working group, as well as the Championships Committee it reports to. The groups also are mindful of potential costs associated with each proposed concept, and ultimately agreed to focus only on those with little to no impact on the Division II budget. “Everything goes back to the no-cost option,” said Philadelphia University Athletics Director Tom Shirley, a member of both the working group and Championships Committee. “That was one of our major takeaways.”