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D-III winter sports landscape still changing
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COLLEGE SPORTS

D-III winter sports landscape still changing

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Two conferences at the NCAA Division III level have called off winter sports championships, but as of Friday, the CCIW is still planning to proceed with the seven sports that compete in the winter months.

According to Augustana College athletic director Mike Zapolski, the league’s athletic directors are set for a regularly scheduled conference call on Monday. One of the items to be addressed is schedules for those sports — men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s swimming & diving, wrestling and men’s and women’s indoor track & field.

Late Friday afternoon, the North Coast Athletic Conference announced via social media that league officials had decided to “cancel conference play, including conference championships for the winter season.”

The NCAC is comprised of the following schools: Allegheny, Denison, Depauw, Hiram, Kenyon, Oberlin, Ohio Wesleyan, Wabash, Wittenberg and College of Wooster.

The NCAC is the second conference in the Division III level to make such a decision. The New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) pulled the plug on winter sports last week.

As has been the case with athletics on all levels since March, things remain fluid. In the CCIW, for example, there are no schedules yet inked for winter sports teams, although the tentative plan is to limit games to fewer than 15 and only play conference games.

A recent decision by CCIW officials — one that mirrors many other schools and conferences at that level — has changed the winter sports landscape even more drastically. In hopes of curtailing the COVID-19 spread, schools and their athletic programs will be shut down from Nov. 25 (the Wednesday before Thanksgiving) through Jan. 1. Athletic participation, according to Zapolski, is allowed to resume on Jan. 2.

“That means nothing athletically related,” said Zapolski of the dark period between holidays. “No weightlifting, no team meetings, no practices.”

The best guess, at this point, is that winter sports competitions will begin in the middle of January — if they are to be played at all. The possibility of the winter season being scrapped all together still looms as the NCAC and NESCAC have shown.

NCAA limits championships: If college sports resume on the Division III level after the first of the year, it appears as if teams will have a tougher time earning spots in postseason tournaments.

The NCAA Division III Championships Committee has recommended that the national tournament brackets for 2021 winter and spring sports not exceed 75% of their standard capacity.

That equates to the normal 64-team bracket for men’s and women’s basketball being reduced to 48 teams, according to Zapolski.

According to information on the NCAA website, a caveat to the proposal is if a sport’s maximum number of allocated automatic qualifiers surpasses the 75% threshold, the championship could expand the field to accommodate each automatic berth. This is consistent with the Division III philosophy of emphasizing conference competition. The committee’s main goal was to preserve access to NCAA championships through automatic qualification.

Field sizes for individual sports also would be reduced to 75% of their typical size.

NCAA officials point to “the financial impact wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic is the driving force behind the proposal.”

Losing last year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament cost the organization roughly $1 billion. The NCAA funds national tournaments for NCAA Division II and III.

This recommendation is working its way through the Division III governance structure but is expected to be rubber-stamped in the upcoming weeks, according to multiple sources.

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