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DIII Management Council backs one-year trial on combined hockey finals

By Gary Brown

The possibility of Division III conducting its men’s ice hockey championship game during the weekend of the Division I Frozen Four – at least on a one-year trial basis – came a step closer to reality when the Division III Management Council backed the concept at its meeting Monday and Tuesday in Indianapolis.

If approved by the Division III Presidents Council on Oct. 30, the one-year pilot would take place in 2014 when Division I conducts its Frozen Four in Philadelphia. The Division III championship game would be played on Friday, April 11, which is the day between the Division I semifinals and final.

After that, Division III governance groups would review to determine whether the combined championship approach would continue in subsequent years.

The concept isn’t necessarily new to the Division III men’s ice hockey community, which has discussed a combined championship for several years, but the idea wasn’t formally broached until the Division III Men’s Ice Hockey Committee proposed it to the Division III Championships Committee in September. The Championships Committee agreed that a combined approach could enhance the student-athlete experience, increase the viewing audience for both divisions and create more awareness for the sport. However, committee members were concerned about the proposal’s effect on the length of the season, which is an important tenet within the Division III philosophy.

Not surprisingly, that philosophical divide re-emerged during the Management Council discussion, particularly in light of a recent and similar discussion regarding the 2013 Division III Men’s Basketball Championship that will be held in conjunction with the Division I Men’s Final Four as part of the NCAA’s 75th men’s basketball celebration in Atlanta. While the basketball proposal was clearly a one-time ask to celebrate a unique milestone, the Management Council is aware that the Division III men’s ice hockey community is interested in a more permanent approach.

The rub is how the combined approach affects the championship season length. The ice hockey committee’s proposal would extend what has been a two-week championship to four (from selections to the final), and it would stage first-round games on the same weekend that the championship game is slated under the current formula.

Current date formula for 2014 Proposed date formula for 2014
Selections – Sunday, March 9 Selections – Sunday, March 16
First round – Wednesday, March 12 First round – Saturday, March 22
Quarterfinals – Saturday, March 15 Quarterfinals – Saturday, March 29
Semifinals – Friday, March 21 Semifinals – Saturday, April 5
Championship game – Saturday, March 22 Championship game – Friday, April 11

Several Management Council members viewed the proposal as further eroding an important Division III cornerstone and potentially disadvantaging multisport athletes. Others, though, thought the division would be in a better position to evaluate the effects on the concerns with the one-year trial having been conducted, rather than speculating.

That argument carried some weight, though the subsequent approval of the combined championship in 2014 came with the narrowest of margins (one vote, with several abstentions). It also came with a recommendation that that the Championships Committee forward criteria to the Management and Presidents Councils in order to evaluate the success of the trial championship format in light of the related philosophical concerns.

“Obviously, the same length-of-season concerns that prompted discussion about the basketball proposal came up with the ice hockey proposal, too,” said Management Council chair Jeff Martinez, athletics director at the University of Redlands. “Those concerns aren’t going to abate whether there’s a combined championship or not, but we felt that we’d be better positioned to evaluate them after actually trying it out.”

Going forward, the Management Council agreed with a previous request from the Championships Committee for the ice hockey community to think more about whether the sport’s playing and practice season will need adjusting if the combined championship approach gains momentum.

In that vein, a legislative proposal currently on the docket for the 2013 Convention that would move the first date of competition for ice hockey to Nov. 1 (from Oct. 15) will be withdrawn unless the Presidents Council does not support the combined championship for 2014.

Both the Council and the Championships Committee agree with that proposal’s intent (moving the contest date away from the first practice date as a student-athlete safety concern), but they want to delay that proposal in light of the more comprehensive review of the playing and practice season resulting from the combined championship.

Other highlights

In other action at the Division III Management Council’s Oct. 15-16 meeting in Indianapolis, members:

  • Discussed a proposal for the 2013 Convention that would require sickle cell trait status confirmation beginning in 2013-14 and supported a division-wide allocation of about $220,000 (up to $500 per active member) to help defray the costs of testing should the proposal be adopted.
  • Approved a recommendation from the Championships Committee that institutions earning automatic qualification to NCAA Division III championships be subject to the requirement to play at least 70 percent of their competition against Division III in-region opponents (50 percent for men’s and women’s tennis, and 25 percent for men’s and women’s golf).
  • Approved a recommended interpretation from the Interpretations and Legislation Committee specifying that the automatic-qualification grace period applies to the situation when a school intended to sponsor a sport but failed to satisfy the minimum participant and contest requirements, thereby rendering the conference with fewer than seven institutions sponsoring the particular sport. For purposes of this scenario, the two-year grace period begins with the start of the academic year after the institution first failed to satisfy the Bylaw 20 minimum sponsorship requirements.
  • Asked the NCAA Division III Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement to review whether the current hardship waiver calculation disadvantages student-athletes who attend institutions that sponsor only indoor or outdoor track and field, and whether legislative or waiver guideline changes are warranted.
  • Approved a Championships Committee recommendation regarding regional advisory committee rankings stipulating that the “results versus ranked teams” criterion for championship selection be modified so that performance is evaluated based on results against teams ranked at the time of selection. The modification replaces the current “once ranked, always ranked” provision.
  • Discussed a safety package from the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports that is in the early stages of development. The Association-wide package, which is not a proposal at this point, considers requiring all NCAA schools to designate a team physician, requiring all strength coaches to be certified, mandating that catastrophic injuries and sudden-death data be reported, and requiring all full-time coaches to be certified in first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillator (AED) usage. The Division III Management Council asked staff to coordinate with the other two divisions a communication/education plan that informs all NCAA members about the ramifications of these recommendations going forward.
  • Heard a presentation on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that was signed into law in March 2010 and largely upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2012. Because of the law’s potential effect on NCAA schools, the Management Council asked staff to discuss it with the membership during the Issues Forum on Friday, Jan. 18 at the Convention.