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New format developed for 2013 DIII men's basketball tourney

By Gary Brown

The Division III Management Council has approved a new format for the men’s basketball championship this coming year to accommodate the Division III championship game being played in conjunction with the 75th men’s basketball celebration being held in Atlanta.

The one-time format change calls for single games to be played at individual campus sites on Saturday, March 2, followed by second-round games at campus sites the following Saturday and third-round contests on Saturday, March 16. Quarterfinalists will compete in Salem, Va., on March 22 and then those winners will play semifinal games on March 23. The two winners will head to Atlanta two weeks later to be part of the Big Dance.

The Presidents Council has to sign off on the new format at its Aug. 9 meeting in Indianapolis before it becomes official.

It’s a different approach than the current format that brackets the field in regional pods of two or four teams for first- and second-round games the first Thursday through Saturday after selections, followed by four, four-team sectionals the next weekend.

It’s also different than a proposal the Division III Men’s Basketball Committee submitted earlier that called for a one-week delay between selections and first-round pod play.

The format changes became necessary when the NCAA decided to stage all three divisions’ men’s finals on the same weekend to celebrate the 75th year of NCAA men’s basketball championships in 2013. The Division I Men’s Final Four semifinals and final will be April 6 and 8 in the Georgia Dome as previously planned. But given the celebratory nature of the anniversary, Divisions II and III were invited to conduct their championship games that weekend, too. Both the DII and DIII finals will be on Sunday, April 7, in nearby Philips Arena. A back up plan will be developed to accommodate any school with a policy that precludes competition on Sunday.

While Division III embraced the unique opportunity to join the most high-profile stage in college sports, it required a different tournament format, since the 2013 Division III championship game will be two weeks later than it would have been under the current formula.

The Division III Men’s Basketball Committee had the first opportunity to suggest how best to mitigate the gap. Based on feedback from the Division III members of the National Basketball Coaches Association, the committee at its June meeting proposed a week off between the selection date and the first and second rounds, which would have maintained the pod structure the division is accustomed to on that first weekend of play. That would have been followed by single games on Saturday, March 16, instead of the customary four-team sectionals.

The committee saw several advantages in the one-week delay, including more time for teams to secure travel arrangements.

Men’s basketball committee members considered the single-game approach for that first weekend, but they thought it would be too similar to just another regular-season game, especially for geographically remote teams that could possibly end up facing a conference foe they just played in their league championship game. The basketball committee thought a tournament-style first round would provide a better experience for participating teams.

But the Division III Championships Committee, which conducted a conference call a few weeks later, thought the basketball committee’s recommendation had too many consequences, not the least of which is that it would guarantee more teams playing longer than usual. Championships Committee members said that could pose problems for institutions that use their basketball facilities to accommodate spring sports teams. In addition, it could compromise basketball players who also participate in a spring sport.

The Championships Committee also was concerned about how the delay might push the tournament into more schools’ Spring Breaks, which could create on-campus housing and meal problems for some institutions.

The Division III Management Council, which met Monday and Tuesday in Indianapolis, agreed with the Championships Committee that conducting single games at campus sites over the three Saturdays immediately following selections was a better approach.

“The decision doesn’t mean that the men’s basketball committee’s recommendation was off base,” said Management Council chair Jeff Martinez, the athletics director at the University of Redlands. “On the contrary, that group was looking out for the best interests of the tournament, per its charge. They believed their recommendation kept the tournament most closely aligned with the format Division III has been accustomed to playing.

“But the Championships Committee, and ultimately the Management Council, was troubled by the one-week delay that pushed everything back and magnified an already compressed transition from basketball to spring sports for more schools. We felt those issues outweighed what the basketball committee was rightfully trying to protect.”

Martinez said the single-game approach has benefits for the tournament, too. He noted the fact that the new format, while it abandons the pod system for this year, makes the best of a challenging situation by creating more home games in the first and second rounds, which should enhance the experience for more teams.

It also retains the benefit the basketball committee’s recommendation offered, which is that eight teams rather than four will enjoy the first-class experience at Salem.

“Salem has been a tremendous experience for our finalists ever since the city began hosting that event,” said Division III Men’s Basketball Committee chair Ken Schumann, the AD at Pacific (Oregon). “The opportunity to have four more schools experience that is another real positive that came out of the joint 2013 championship.”

Neither recommendation affected the selection date, which was of utmost importance to all Division III stakeholders, since moving that would have impacted conference tournaments and perhaps even the timing of the playing and practice season.

“It was a case of there not being a perfect solution that addressed the extended timeline for this one tournament,” Martinez said. “But when we balanced all of the factors involved, we believe we settled on the right outcome that protects the tournament experience and keeps to a minimum the issues schools might face because of a new format.

“The key was to take advantage of a unique opportunity to give our two finalists – and the division overall – more exposure on basketball’s biggest stage without compromising the tournament’s preliminary rounds or the experience for the student-athletes who participate in them.”