What's new in 2016? - Part 1
As with every season, there are various changes occurring for the new 2016 season and we highlight the noteworthy changes in a two-part article. Part 1, which follows, covers programs being added (or terminated), updates in schools' membership status, conference changes, etc. Part 2 reviews the more significant changes in the new rules book going into effect this year.
INAUGURAL SEASON FOR TWO MEN'S TEAMS AND ONE WOMEN'S TEAM
The 116-year old College of Saint Elizabeth becomes fully co-educational this school year and has added men's soccer and basketball programs whose teams will immediately compete in the North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) where their women's teams, including soccer, have been competing since 2009. While coeducational continuing studies and graduate classes have been offered since the 1970's, their traditional undergraduate programs have been women-only until now. Sixty-seven of the 169 incoming students this fall are men, half of whom are committed to playing either soccer or basketball for the Eagles. Tiago Dos Santos, a first-time head coach, has been hired to develop and guide the men's soccer program. The team is eligible for the NEAC and NCAA tournaments immediately because Saint Elizabeth is a full, active Division III member. With the addition, the NEAC comprises fourteen men's soccer teams.
In a very similar scenario to Saint Elizabeth, The College of New Rochelle will field a men's soccer team for the first time in its 112 year history this fall. The institution was founded as a women's college and now consists of four schools, three of which have been co-educational since the 1970's. Starting with the 2016/17 academic year, the School of Arts and Science, home of the college's most traditional four-year degree programs, will also open its doors to men. Women still constitute over 90% of full-time students and the Blue Angels' intercollegiate athletics program has been all-women until this year when men's basketball and swimming will also debut. Nate Kalin, men's head coach at Mount St. Vincent the past three years, has been hired as the SID and inaugural men's soccer coach. His team will compete in the non-Division III Hudson Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (HVIAC) already this season. The college is already a full Division III member, therefore the men's soccer team is immediately eligible for selection to the NCAA tournament from Pool B as an independent. New Rochelle does not field a women's soccer team.
Bryn Athyn College of the North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) added a women's soccer program last year that begins play this season. Former Rowan stand-out and national champion Bill O'Neill was hired as their first head women's soccer coach over a year ago. Their inclusion brings the NEAC to fourteen women's teams. As a school, Bryn Athyn has progressed to year four of the four-year provisional Division III membership process and all their sports teams are expected to be eligible for post-season play starting with the 2017/18 school year.
NO MORE WISCONSIN-OSHKOSH MEN'S SOCCER
Despite efforts by alumni and supporters of the program, there was no reversal of the administration’s decision to cut men’s soccer at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh following the 2015 season. Decreases in state funding were cited as the reason a couple of UW-Oshkosh's sports programs needed to be cut, and men's soccer was selected, partially due to the fact that the their conference (WIAC) does not earn an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament in their sport and now doesn't even sponsor a conference championship in men's soccer after being left with just four men’s teams following Wisconsin-Superior’s move to the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC) a year ago. The program, started in 1984 by now-legendary Coach Toby Bares, posted thirty-one straight winning seasons after its 6-7-0 inaugural campaign, tied for the sixth longest streak all-time in Division III men’s soccer. Altogether, the Titans amassed a 423-122-55 (.751) record over thirty-two years that included one undefeated season and two one-loss campaigns. They advanced to the NCAA Tournament Final Four on four occasions spread across three different decades; only eight active Division III men’s teams have reached the semifinals more times. The team was at its best from 1991 to 2003, making the NCAA Tournament ten out of thirteen years, including three of their Final Four appearances. UW-Oshkosh was among the top ten or so Division III men’s soccer programs over the past 30 years and will be missed.
NEW ACTIVE DIVISION III MEMBERS
• Former NAIA school, Houghton College, has achieved full Division III membership. The Highlanders, members of the Empire 8 Conference since their first year of provisional membership in 2012, are now eligible for NCAA tournaments. Houghton has played full Empire 8 schedules since joining the conference, but only became eligible for the conference tournament the past two seasons in the third and fourth years of the transition. Both men's and women's teams earned a spot in the conference post-season last year as #3 and #4 seeds, respectively. The men's program won three National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) national titles in 1979, 1980 and 1986. The women's team claimed the NCCAA championship, their first national title, just last year, winning a penalty shootout in the final against former Division III school Mississippi College who was in their final transitional year to Division II.
• Southern Virginia University of the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) has completed the provisional process and has been approved for active Division III membership status. The former United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) member is eligible for NCAA tournaments starting this year. The Knights began competition in the CAC three years ago, and were eligible for the conference championship in years three and four of Division III provisional membership. As a long-time member of the USCAA, formerly the National Small College Athletic Associations (NSCAA), Southern Virginia's soccer teams boast seven national titles: the men won back-to-back championships in 2000 and 2001 while the women were repeat champions in 1998 and 1999 and claimed three titles in four years from 2005 to 2008. Southern Virginia is the only Division III institution that provides a Latter-day Saints (LDS) environment.
• The third new full Division III member is the University of Valley Forge, who, like Southern Virginia, successfully transitioned from the USCAA. Previously named Valley Forge Christian College, the school changed names halfway through their provisional membership. The Patriots, who remain unaffiliated with any conference, are eligible for the NCAA tournament as Pool B candidate starting this year. While searching for a conference, Valley Forge has joined the Association of Division III Independents (AD3I) which includes thirteen other institutions without a conference home.
• No schools are entering provisional membership this year, the first time in five years (2011) that has been the case.
• Belhaven University has been approved to advance to year two of the provisional membership process. The Blazers also enter their second season of play in the American Southwest Conference (ASC) this fall but are ineligible for the conference championship tournament. Belhaven is expected to become an active D-III member for the 2019-20 school year at which time they will be eligible for the NCAA tournament. In the meantime, they will declare for the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) tournament. Games against the Blazers are not considered as “in-region” Division III games until the school reaches year three of provisional membership.
• Approval to enter their third year of provisional membership was granted to four schools: Alfred State–SUNY College of Technology, Illinois Institute of Technology (aka Illinois Tech), Iowa Wesleyan University of the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) and McMurry University of the American Southwest Conference (ASC). These schools are on schedule to become active D-III members and eligible for the NCAA tournament beginning with the 2018-19 season. Contests against them are now considered as “in-region” games.
• Three schools not only successfully completed year two of provisional membership, but where also granted a waiver to accelerate the process and bypass year three. Advancing to year four, their final year as provisional members, are Bryn Athyn College and Pennsylvania College of Technology (aka Penn College) of the North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) and independent Berea College. These programs are scheduled to be eligible for NCAA tournament participation starting next season and games against them are considered “in-region” this season.
CONFERENCE AFFILIATION UPDATES
• After twenty-four years in the Midwest Conference (MWC), Carroll University returns to the Collegiate Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) this season. Carroll men’s soccer claimed three MWC titles (’08, ’09, ’11) and made the playoffs in 13 of the last 15 years. Their women’s team was even more successful with six MWC titles (’98, ’02, ’07, ’08, ’10, ’11) from 13 conference tournament appearances in the past 19 years. Carroll was previously a member of the CCIW from 1955 to 1992. With the switch, the MWC drops to ten schools while the CCIW grows to nine. The move also means that Carroll is re-assigned to the Central Region from the North Region.
• The United States Merchant Marine Academy is back in the Skyline Conference after nine years in the Landmark Conference. Merchant Marine was a charter member of the Skyline Conference where they competed until leaving to become a charter member of the Landmark Conference in 2007. In the Landmark, their soccer team was competitive, making the playoffs six of nine seasons and winning the title in 2011. Previously they had dominated the Skyline winning nine of the first eleven men’s soccer championships from 1992 to 2002 before Stevens Tech joined and rose to national prominence. The Academy’s return, which shifts them back into the East Region, will push the number of men's soccer teams in the Skyline Conference to twelve while the Landmark will drop to eight men's teams.
• Nebraska Wesleyan University joins the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (IIAC) starting this season, becoming the conference's first ever member from outside the state of Iowa. Through last season, Nebraska Wesleyan was affiliated with both the NCAA’s Division III and the NAIA—the only school in the country with dual affiliation—competing in NAIA's Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC). With the switch of conference, Nebraska Wesleyan will end its NAIA affiliation and increase the IIAC's membership list to nine schools. The men’s soccer team had their best run from 1996 through 2003 when they made three appearances in the NAIA national tournament and two appearances in the NCAA Division III tournament. The women’s team, for their part, made the NAIA national tournament every year from 1993 to 1998.
• It’s curtains on the Great South Athletic Conference (GSAC) , the increasingly misnamed conference who in recent years was reduced to a women’s-only end-of-season tournament that was forced to cobbled together far-flung schools from Maine to California to remain in existence and maintain its automatic berth to the women’s NCAA tournament. The conference was founded in 1999 with five co-educational institutions from the southeast: Fisk University, Piedmont College, Maryville College, LaGrange College, and Stillman College. Despite losing two charter members along the way, the GSAC grew to nine members (including three women’s-only colleges) by the 2010/11 school year. However, five defections to the USA South Athletic Conference in 2012 and 2013 and Spelman’s termination of intercollegiate athletics reduced the conference’s presence in the southeast to just three women’s-only schools. Members added from D.C., Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, California, and Wisconsin allowed the conference to continue as a women’s only association for another four years, the last three without any regular season competition. Three more defections to the USA South by Agnes Scott College, Salem College, and Wesleyan College (Ga.) scheduled for this season spelled the end.
• As mentioned above, three all-female schools, Agnes Scott College, Salem College and Wesleyan College (Ga.) , have joined the USA South Athletic Conference from the Great South Atlantic Conference (GSAC). The switch swells the USA South to sixteen women's programs, half (eight) of which are former members of the GSAC. For women’s soccer, the conference will be divided into two divisions. The East Division consists of Averett, Ferrum, Greensboro, Mary Baldwin, Methodist, N.C. Wesleyan and William Peace, while the West Division includes Agnes Scott, Covenant, Huntingdon, LaGrange, Maryville, Piedmont, Salem and Wesleyan (Ga.). Men’s soccer, which holds at eleven teams, is not separated into divisions for the 2016 season, however, that may happen next year when three more new members are scheduled to join the conference.
• Reflecting its growth, Cabrini College became Cabrini University on July 1, 2016. The Catholic institution in the Philadelphia suburbs was founded in 1957. Cabrini competes in the Colonial States Athletic Conference (CSAC) as it has since 1992 when it was a charter member of the then-named Pennsylvania Athletic Conference (PAC).
• Facing legal pressure from North Carolina State University, Keuka College has decided to desist with the nickname “Wolfpack” that they adopted just two years ago and will now be called the Wolves. The school’s mascot and much of its athletics visual identity will remain unchanged. Representing family, teamwork, and looking out for one another, “Wolfpack” had replaced the previous moniker “Storm” as a result of a student-led recommendation after the student body had united to provide impressive assistance in the clean-up efforts in the nearby town of Penn Yan following severe flooding and destruction caused by torrential rain storms. The school, which competes in the North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC), believed there was legal possibility and applicable precedent for use of the trademarked name, but did not find it fiscally responsible to invest in a legal battle, especially knowing the much greater monetary resources that N.C. State had at its disposal and may have been prepared to spend.
• Similarly, having been served with a trademark infringement lawsuit, Summit University of Pennsylvania changed its name for the second straight year, this time to Clarks Summit University. Formerly Baptist Bible College, the school had change its name in April 2015, aware of Summit University located in Montana but believing “of Pennsylvania” provided sufficient differentiation. Three months later, however, Church Universal and Triumphant, Inc., operator of the Montana institution, filed its suit. The name “Summit” provided the Pennsylvania school an attractive dual meaning as it is located near the town of Clarks Summit which is used in its mailing address. The revised name became official in July. Clarks Summit is a member of the Colonial Sates Athletic Conference (CSAC).
NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP TWISTS AND TWEAKS
• The Division III Management Council has approved an increase in the men’s championship bracket from 61 teams to 62 teams for this season which means one additional Pool C at-large berth. With 42 men’s conferences having been granted automatic qualification to this year’s tournament (same as last year), the allocations for the 2016 men’s championship will be as follows: Pool A automatic berths (AQ)—42, Pool B at-large berths—1, Pool C at-large berths—19.
• In conjunction with the increase to a 62-team tournament field, each of the two remaining stand-alone first-round men’s games will be moved to the weekend to be hosted together with the ensuing second-round match against the team receiving the first-round bye who typically would host.
• With the Great South Athletic Conference (GSAC) dissolving, the number of women’s conferences granted automatic berths to this year’s tournament has dropped to 43 with GSAC’s berth shifting to Pool B who was without a dedicated at-large berth the previous two seasons. Berths to the 2016 women’s championship will be allocated as follows: Pool A automatic berths (AQ)—43, Pool B at-large berths—1, Pool C at-large berths—20.
• Starting this year, the weighted Strength of Schedule (SOS) multiplier already in effect for men's soccer will be implemented for women's soccer. The multiplier gives more weight for away games and less weight to home games in the calculation of the opponents' average winning percentage (OWP) and opponents' opponents' average winning percentage (OOWP). The value of home games are reduced by 15% while the value of away games are increased by 25%, meaning away games are worth almost one and one-half times home games (i.e. 50% more).
• The final NCAA regional rankings will once again be published effective starting this year. For the past several years, the critical final rankings which are the basis for the at-large tournament selections have gone unpublished. The hesitation on the part of the Division III Championships Committee to accept the men’s and women’s soccer committees’ recommendation to revert back to publishing the final rankings (as was done in the first couple years after implementing the NCAA regional rankings) centered on potential confusion generated by the bracket pairings when geographical proximity supersedes relative team strength. However, outweighing those concerns were the benefits of transparency and pre-emptively addressing some of the questions that typically arise following the selections. The final rankings will be published either in conjunction with or soon after the announcement of at-large selections.
• The Division III Women’s Soccer Committee has voted to make daytime game times the default in the first two weekends of women’s championship tournament. Evening game times would be allowed only as exceptions in instances where morning/afternoon game times cannot be accommodated by the host institution.
• After two years at Swope Soccer Village in Kansas City, Mo., the men's and women's joint Final Four returns to Greensboro, N.C., where the first two pre-determined host site Final Fours were held in 2004 and 2005 as well as again in 2008. Greensboro Sports Commission will be the host in 2016 and 2017 with games to be played in 3,500-plus capacity UNC-Greensboro soccer stadium. This is a different venue from the one that hosted the previous Final Fours, that having been McPherson Stadium in the Bryant Park Soccer Complex northeast of Greensboro. UNC-Greensboro, it should be remembered, was a dominant force in Division III soccer in the 80’s, winning five national titles in six years before moving up to Division I. In 2016, the men will play in the early games and the women in the evening games.
Now, looking ahead to future seasons . . .
CHANGES (AND POTENTIAL CHANGES) ON THE HORIZON
• Four applications for Division III Exploratory Membership have been accepted; Brevard College, Dean College, Pfeiffer University, and Saint Anselm’s College will take the first step towards becoming Division III members this season. Upon satisfactory completion of the exploratory year and continued desire to pursue full membership, the institutions would begin the four-year provisional membership process in 2017-18. Assuming no delays, these schools would achieve full Division III membership status for the 2021-22 school year.
• Two of the schools embarking on their exploratory year, Brevard College and Pfeiffer University, along with Berea College, who enters their final year of provisional Division III membership, are set to join USA South Athletic Conference in 2017-18. Berea is concluding their transition to Division III from NAIA and has been competing as an independent since the 2014 season. Brevard of the South Atlantic Conference and Pfeiffer from Conference Carolinas will continue to compete in their current Division II conferences in 2016-17 before starting the transition to Division III in earnest next year. Their additions will bring the number of men’s and women’s soccer teams in the conference to 14 and 19, respectively. Assuming successful completion of their final provisional membership year, Berea will be immediately eligible for USA South post-season play and the NCAA tournament. Post-season participation for Brevard and Pfeiffer will have wait until they achieve full Division III membership status. No word yet on whether the conference will seek an additional automatic berth with two separate championships as the Middle Atlantic Conference did at the outset of the automatic berth system in the late 90’s with the creation of the Commonwealth and Freedom conferences which compete separately under a single administrative entity.
• The Sage Colleges has been accepted into the Empire 8 Conference for the 2017-18 school year. Sage has been a member of the Skyline Conference since 2007 with their men’s soccer program being added in 2010. During that time, their soccer teams have made the Skyline tournament every year with the men’s team winning the championship last year. With the departure, the Skyline will drop to eleven men’s and ten women’s soccer teams. The Empire 8 will grow to nine full members, all fielding both men’s and women’s soccer teams with an additional women’s team from affiliate member Hartwick.
• Earlier this year California Institute of Technology (aka Caltech) announced the addition of a women’s soccer program to begin play in 2017. To guide the development of the program, former Villanova player Taylor Houck was hired as the school’s first women’s soccer coach. She served as an assistant coach for the Oberlin women’s team the past two years after a professional playing career in Finland. Caltech is a member of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) and the only conference member to not field a women’s soccer team.
• A proposal was made to the men’s and women’s soccer committees for the regional re-assignment of the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC). The NJAC is currently assigned to the South Atlantic region—an alignment that the committees recognize is not ideal—but the suggested new region for the conference and the sponsor of the proposal was not divulged. For many years the NJAC was assigned to the Metro Region which, among other changes in the 2009 realignment, was dissolved into the adjacent regions. The committee felt the proposal did not eliminate the issues making the current arrangement less than ideal, rather, it simply shifted them to a different region. The sponsoring conference was asked to gather more feedback from the other conferences that would be impacted by the potential re-alignment. While the NJAC’s inclusion in the South Atlantic Region has always been odd, re-assignment to the Mid-Atlantic or East Region would create different regional imbalances numerically and qualitatively.
• The Division III Championships Committee has endorsed a change to the application of the “Results versus Ranked Opponents“ criteria for tournament selections to go into effect for the 2017-18 school year. At present, only results versus opponents “ranked at the time of selection” can be considered, i.e. versus teams ranked in the third weekly regional rankings. The Division III men’s and women’s soccer committees had recommended an adjustment to the criteria to allow consideration of the data used in both the final, unpublished rankings and the third published rankings, i.e. records versus teams ranked in the second and third rankings. In the three years under the current criteria, significant fluctuations in teams’ records versus ranked teams have occurred from the second to the third to the final unpublished rankings, ultimately resulting in some surprising and seemingly unfair omissions from the at-large selections for the NCAA tournament. The proposed revision is a compromise between the former “once ranked always ranked” and the current “ranked at the time of selection” criterion. It’s unclear why this improvement could not have been implemented this year already.
• The relevance of the current Strength of Schedule (SOS) multiplier to weight home and away games is being evaluated by the men’s and women’s soccer committees in conjunction with NCAA statistics staff. Earlier this year the committees put forth a proposal to change the home game multiplier from the current 0.85 to 1.00 and the neutral site multiplier from 1.00 to 1.25 with the away multiplier remaining at 1.25. This would remove the penalty associated with home contests and lessen the point value difference between home and away matches. As it currently stands, an away match is worth almost 50% more than a home match thereby equating away victories against average to moderate opponents with defeating top opposition at home. For example, an away win versus a team with a .550 winning pct. is worth the same as beating a .800 team at home if both those opponents themselves have comparable strength of schedule. The Division III Championships Committee wanted more analysis to be done before reconsidering a change. A final recommendation, which could also be to move to an alternate method of calculation altogether, is expected this fall in order allow sufficient time for the required reviews and approvals for implementation in the 2017-18 school year.
• The Division III Championships Committee has concurred with a revised proposal and recommended that non-conference Strength of Schedule should be tracked and used as a secondary championship selection criterion. The inclusion of SOS outside of conference play will give the selection committees a look at how teams are scheduling and competing beyond their fixed conference slate. The initial proposal in 2-13 called for the non-conference SOS to be a primary criterion.
• As an alternate to the denied proposal to combine Pool B and C for at-large selections, the Division III Championships Committee has suggested that the sports committees consider doing a Pool B national ranking in conjunction with the final weekly regional ranking.
• The Division III Championships Committee approved the recommendation put forth by the men's and women's soccer committees to allow (not require) separate men's and women's Final Fours sites beginning in 2018. With only four teams and three games to host, it is believed that this would greatly increase the number of venues, and particularly on-campus facilities, that could host a Final Four. The expectation is that more bids would be received to host the Final Fours within the Division III geographical footprint and on campus as opposed to recent and current awarded sites like those in San Antonio, Kansas City and Greensboro that are off campus with very few proximate Division III schools. Improved location can reasonably be expected to increase attendance, providing improved atmosphere and contributing to the financial success of the championships. An even greater financial impact can be expected to come from minimal to non-existent facility rental and personnel outsourcing expenses if hosted on-campus and from an estimated 50% reduction in the number of teams requiring flights to travel to the host site*. On-campus single-gender Final Fours should also mean more adequate facilities and amenities for participants who have sometimes had to deal with temporary or make-shift locker and training rooms and for fans who have faced limited concessions and restrooms. Joint bids will still be accepted and fully considered. (* - in the pre-determined, joint-site era started in 2004, 83% of teams have required flights to travel to the Final Four; in the previous nine years with separate, participant-hosted sites only 43% of teams required flights.)
Comments or feedback for the author? Email Christan Shirk.