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Severe winters may force changes in DIII baseball, softball schedules

Research suggests rising temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean and melting ice in the Arctic are triggering longer-lasting — and more severe — winter storms throughout the eastern half of the United States. Indeed, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration notes that the number of extreme annual snowstorms in the country roughly has doubled over the past century.

While the effects of a changing climate are profound, they also can be rendered on a granular scale: Division III baseball and softball fields in the Northeast and Midwest, for instance, have been covered in snow in the spring more frequently in recent years than in the past. And when winter seems reluctant to yield, forcing game delays and cancellations, it can prove challenging for some programs to play full schedules and for student-athletes to cram more athletic and academic responsibilities into a condensed time frame at semester’s end.

The issue has been the subject of discussion throughout Division III in recent years and led the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference to introduce a 2020 NCAA Convention resolution that calls for the Division III Softball and Baseball Committees to collaborate with the Division III Championships Committee to examine the timing of national championship schedules in both sports.

“Climate change is not going away,” says Donna Ledwin, the conference’s commissioner. “These winters aren’t getting better. These springs aren’t getting better. We need to do better for those student-athletes.”

The resolution has been co-sponsored by the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association, the Great Northeast Athletic Conference and the Commonwealth Coast Conference and will be the subject of discussion and a membership vote at the 2020 Division III Business Session in Anaheim, California. The Division III Management and Presidents Councils will discuss the proposal and take positions in advance of the Convention vote.

If Division III members adopt the resolution at Convention, the relevant committees would be tasked with examining the effects of compressed seasons in both sports due to weather issues, which can result in missed games and class time. They will have to weigh potential budget implications and other considerations if, for instance, either championship were to be moved a week later into the spring semester. Any changes would be effective no earlier than the spring 2023 season.

With longer winters and more snow, which can render grass fields unusable even after it melts, some programs in the Northeast and Midwest have found themselves scrambling to complete a slew of games at the end of the semester before conference tournaments. Teams in her conference, Ledwin says, even have played makeup games the day before those tournaments were slated to begin. The relative chaos can make it difficult for teams to play the full slate of games allowed — 40 contests in both sports — which, some worry, hinders their ability to qualify for NCAA championship competition.

The AMCC attempted to address the issue several years ago by introducing a proposal that called for both sports’ seasons to be split over the fall and spring semesters. However, the proposal didn’t receive a co-sponsor, and members opposed the idea when polled at the 2016 Division III Issues Forum, with 67% indicating they didn’t support further discussion of a two-period model for either sport. However, given weather concerns, 71% of those polled expressed interest in having committees explore alternative formats for the sports’ seasons. The new proposed resolution, Ledwin argues, is an extension of that desire.

“We’re looking for something that’s a little more in the middle ground,” Ledwin says. “We’ve got to do what’s right for the students. The status quo is not good enough.”

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Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.