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DIII Championships Committee shifts approach to regional realignment

Group asks for suggestions that incorporate competitive balance

In response to feedback from Division III members and sport committees, the Division III Championships Committee has recalibrated its approach to regional realignment.

At a meeting this week in Indianapolis, the committee delved into feedback from several of the division’s sport committees regarding its February endorsement of a regional realignment proposal. The proposal initially was crafted by members of the Division III Commissioners Association and intended to account for growth in many of the division’s sports. The committees that provided feedback included those that oversee baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, field hockey, football, men’s golf, men’s and women’s soccer, softball and women’s volleyball.

The initial proposal was guided by three key criteria: balancing the number of institutions across all regions; placing importance on geographic proximity; and maintaining conference members within the same regions.

While many of the sport committees seemed receptive to those general principles, nearly all raised issues with the fact that competitive balance across regions wasn’t taken into account. The commissioners group and the Championships Committee both intentionally avoided taking competitive strength of regions into account in the initial proposal because it’s a variable that can shift over time.

Given that near-universal feedback, though, the Championships Committee has reversed its initial stance. Instead, the group has asked sport committees to put forward suggestions for new regions governed by the aforementioned three overarching principles, as well as the idea of maintaining competitive balance. 

“They are much more in tune to what balancing competition looks like in their respective sport,” said Bill Stiles, Championships Committee chair and director of athletics at Alvernia. “Sending it back to them with that in mind, saying that we’ll entertain some of that consideration while staying within the framework of the guiding principles, I think is a great place to land and indicative that we’ve solicited their feedback, heard their feedback and we want to take it into account.”

A handful of sports, including women’s golf, women’s lacrosse, men’s lacrosse and wrestling, have realigned their regions recently to accommodate growth in their sports, and additional feedback is not sought at this time. Other sports, including cross country, ice hockey, rowing, tennis and men’s volleyball, were not included in the review for various reasons, including current sponsorship and region numbers and championship qualifying formats.

The Championships Committee will review the sport committees’ proposed realignment models when it reconvenes this fall.

Automatic qualification requirements

The Championships Committee discussed a recommendation from the Conference Automatic Qualification Requirements Working Group. The recommendation calls for teams to schedule regular season contests against at least 70% of their conference members that sponsor a given sport to be eligible to earn the conference’s automatic berth into the NCAA championship.

The committee supported the notion of establishing a percentage threshold for automatic qualification but did not formally endorse what that threshold should be. The committee will solicit feedback from Division III conference commissioners, then return to the subject at its meeting this fall. It may make a formal recommendation at that time.