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Division III members gather to discuss playing and practice seasons

Delegates weigh in on concepts through discussion and straw polls

Concepts for changes to playing and practice season structure took center stage at the Division III Issues Forum on Friday as council members gauged delegates’ interest in possible changes.

The Division III Management Council Playing and Practice Seasons Subcommittee presented several concepts to prompt discussions among delegates at the NCAA Convention in San Antonio, focusing on three primary areas pertaining to the standardization of contest exemptions, alternatives to the current format for the nontraditional segment and reducing contest limitations in baseball and softball. At the 2015 NCAA Convention, members charged the committee with undertaking a comprehensive review of rules pertaining to the division’s playing and practice seasons; Friday’s discussion with delegates marked a significant step in that process.

Forum attendees, who took part in several straw polls related to the concepts, included 251 athletics directors, 157 associate or assistant athletics directors, 118 students and 30 presidents and chancellors, among others.

The straw poll results indicated little support for counting participation in a conference championship as a single contest or for eliminating sport-specific exemptions to contest limits, such as one allowing a water polo team to compete against a U.S. national team. The room was divided on a concept to eliminate all sport-specific contest exemptions, but allow two exemptions at the discretion of each sport. Sixty-three percent of members supported maintaining current NCAA championship exemptions, and eliminating all other contest exemptions save for two discretionary exemptions. The room also was evenly split on whether or not the subcommittee should continue to discuss potential models not presented during the forum.

While potential changes to contest exemptions received moderate support, amending the nontraditional segment garnered little interest from members. Members did not express interest in reducing nontraditional segment practice opportunities from 16 to 12 (77 percent voted no); establishing a standard start date for the fall nontraditional segment (79 percent voted no); replacing the current nontraditional segment with small group instruction and/or strength training throughout the year (68 percent voted no); or allowing institutions to choose between the current model or small group instruction and/or strength training throughout the year (62 percent voted no). The room was divided on whether or not the subcommittee should continue discussing other models that weren’t presented.

Lastly, members were given the opportunity to share their opinions about contest limitations in baseball and softball, the two sports most frequently identified for review in a prior membership survey. Sixty-four percent of respondents voted no to further discussions regarding reducing contest limits in baseball and softball by two contests; 76 percent voted no to further discussing reducing the maximums in both sports by four games while adding two dates of competition to the nontraditional segment; 67 percent of members voted no to more discussions of shifting the baseball and softball seasons to a two-period model played during the fall and spring – similar to the format for tennis, golf and rowing. Members did express strong interest (71 percent) in the subcommittee discussing other alternatives for amending the format of the baseball and softball seasons, particularly given the difficulty some schools in cold climates have meeting contest minimums.

The subcommittee will convene again in the near future to discuss the straw polling feedback, as well as the feedback garnered during roundtable discussions at the issues forum, and will suggest next steps.

“We will begin to assess which discussion, if any, should move forward,” said Chris Ragsdale, Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference commissioner and Playing and Practice Seasons Subcommittee chair. “For those discussions that do move forward, our subcommittee will continue to develop those concepts and will find ways to continue to engage the membership throughout the entire process.”

More from the issues forum

  • Gary Williams, athletics director at Wittenberg University and chair of the Division III Sportsmanship and Game Environment Working Group, updated members on the working group’s progress and sought feedback on potential next steps. The working group is seeking to create a certification program to help athletics administrators learn how to handle unruly fan behavior and, in a straw poll, 44 percent of members indicated they would need no incentive to take part in the program, and only 11 percent indicated they were unlikely to participate. Members indicated that parents (48 percent) and student sections (35 percent) are responsible for the most behavioral issues at Division III sporting events.
  • Two members of the Division III Diversity and Inclusion Working Group – Heather Benning, executive director of the Midwest Conference, and Dennis Shields, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville – discussed the group’s progress and its next steps, which include developing a hiring best practices resource, assessment tools and new programs and initiatives intended to help ethnic minorities launch careers in athletics administration and coaching. Members were asked where funding should be prioritized for future diversity and inclusion initiatives: The room was fairly split among facilitating opportunities for coaches (37 percent), administrators (39 percent) and students (24 percent).