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DIII committee recommends modest championships expansion

Proposals include bracket expansions, health and safety enhancements

As Division III schools continue to add more sports and more competitors, their championships are legislated to follow suit.

Larger championships carry larger costs. But rather than impede more championship opportunities for student-athletes, the Division III Strategic Planning and Finance Committee is working to find ways to fund them. The committee is following this path based on the Division III membership’s consistent feedback that maintaining the current ratio for championship access – a ratio that requires one out of every 6.5 teams to compete in championships – is a top priority.

With that guidance in mind, at its March 23 meeting in Indianapolis, the committee endorsed a recommendation from the Division III Championships Committee that would allow brackets to expand in seven sports in the 2016-17 academic year and add a super regional format to baseball in 2017-18. Together, the bracket changes will cost an estimated $210,000 annually.

The committee also endorsed a series of health and safety and equity proposals from the Championships Committee related to enhancements for wrestling, rowing and football. In wrestling, the division will expand the Division III Wrestling Committee and increase the host stipend for two-day meets; in rowing, Division III will select full teams for at-large positions instead of single boats; and in football, it will provide a stipend to a championship officials coordinator.

Those enhancements, if approved by the Division III Management Council, would carry an annual cost of about $57,000. And the Strategic Planning and Finance Committee reaffirmed its commitment to 2017-18 championships enhancements – reintroducing a championships host per diem at a rate of $30, increasing the per diem for championships participants from $90 to $95 and increasing the field size for the Division III Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships. Those updates will be mostly funded by the membership dues increase approved by Division III members at the NCAA Convention in January.

The Management Council will review these recommendations at its April meeting.

Several years ago, the Division III Presidents Council lowered the division’s mandated reserve from 80 percent of its annual budget to 50 percent. The change in policy resulted in surplus beyond the mandated reserve, and the Strategic Planning and Finance Committee voted to spend down funds in excess of that threshold, if necessary, to help offset championship and nonchampionship enhancement costs in the future.

Funds in excess of the reserve will reach an estimated $13.4 million after the 2015-16 academic year concludes. The particulars of how those funds will be spent will be determined at  future meetings, but the Strategic Planning and Finance Committee’s vote Wednesday will prompt the Division III Management and Presidents Councils to discuss the issue in more detail when they convene this spring.

“Are there other ways that we could make use of those dollars?” asked Jay Lemons, Strategic Planning and Finance Committee chair and president of Susquehanna University. “As we looked at the opportunities to expand some championship activities and to support nonchampionship programmatic expenses, this committee reached a determination, unanimously, that it believes such uses are appropriate.”

Minority grant program

The committee voted to continue funding the NCAA Convention ethnic minority grant program. A pilot program brought 39 ethnic minority students to the 2016 NCAA Convention to network with and learn from Division III staff and the division’s administrators. The program’s goal is to build a pipeline to Division III athletics administration and to further diversify the division.

The Division III Diversity and Inclusion Working Group received positive feedback from students and asked the Strategic Planning and Finance Committee to fund the program for the 2017 NCAA Convention. The program will provide up to $2,000 each for as many as 40 students to attend the Convention, which will take place in January in Nashville.