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DII committee recommends changes to rules on automatic qualification

Allowing automatic qualification for championship brackets of fewer than 48 teams among proposed changes

The Division II Championships Committee last week recommended a multi-part proposal that could change the way some teams qualify for Division II championships. The recommendations, made during the committee’s teleconference June 15, mark a significant step in an ongoing discussion within the division about automatic qualification for championships.

The Championships Committee proposed the following changes to the Division II legislation on automatic qualification:

  • Eliminate the requirement that a championship bracket must have 48 or more teams in order to be eligible for automatic qualification.
  • Allow a conference’s affiliate members – schools that compete only in a sport their primary conference does not sponsor – to count toward sponsorship requirements for automatic qualification in that sport. A conference must now have six schools sponsor a sport to be eligible for automatic qualification, and affiliate members do not count toward that minimum number.
  • Eliminate the requirement that when automatic qualification is offered in a sport, at least 50 percent of the championship field for regional tournaments must be reserved for at-large teams. Instead, each governing sport committee would be in charge of recommending to the Championships Committee the appropriate percentage of at-large bids.

The Division II Management Council will review the committee’s recommendations at its July meeting, and the Division II Presidents Council will look at them in August. If the Presidents Council favors the changes, it can sponsor a formal legislative proposal that would be up for a membership vote at the 2016 NCAA Convention.

The Championships Committee recommended that the changes, if approved, take effect Aug. 1, 2017. The delayed effective date would provide governing sport committees time to develop a policy for awarding automatic qualification, and it would provide conferences time to determine their process for selecting the automatic qualifier.

The expansion of automatic qualification in Division II has been a key topic of review and discussion in recent years. In 2013, 70 percent of people who responded to the Division II membership census expressed support for a change in the rules on automatic qualification. And at the 2015 NCAA Convention, a similar percentage favored a change.

Then, earlier this month, the Championships Committee received results from a survey that was sent to the Division II Management Council, the Conference Commissioners Association, regional advisory committees, sport committees and athletics directors.  A vast majority of the survey respondents, including 80 percent of the athletics directors who responded and 94 percent of commissioners, support the change to allow automatic qualification for brackets of fewer than 48 teams. Many of the respondents wrote they believe automatic qualification adds value to conference championships because automatic qualification is most often used to provide an NCAA tournament bid to the winner of the conference tournament.

Opponents of expanded automatic qualification expressed a concern that, in sports with smaller numbers of teams participating, too many championship spots would be reserved for automatic bids.

But Championships Committee members are quick to clarify that, even with the changes they are recommending, every sport might not have automatic qualification. For a sport such as field hockey, for instance, having two automatic bids from conference champions out of a bracket of six teams might not make much sense. It would be up to each sport committee to request automatic qualification for its sport, and ultimately, the Championships Committee would have the authority to approve or deny the request.