New rules, new conference, name changes
NEW CONFERENCE OPENS PLAY
• The Southern Athletic Association (SAA) debuts with eight schools, sevens of which broke away from the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC). Birmingham Southern, Centre, Hendrix, Millsaps, Oglethorpe, Rhodes, and Sewanee (Univ. of the South) joined formerly independent Berry in forming the new conference. Reduction of travel time and missed classes was cited as the reason for the eastern half of the SCAC to split off. The SAA will enter a two-year waiting period before receiving an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament starting with the 2014 season. Therefore, these schools will start in Pool B for tournament selection purposes this year and next. Berry is in its final year of the provisional membership and not eligible fomr the NCAA tournament this year. The composite schedule on the conference website indicates that there will be a three-day conference tournament with a quarterfinal stage, but it's not clear if that means a five-team playoff with a single quarterfinal match or more.
CONFERENCE MUSICAL CHAIRS
• The Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) lost seven schools to the new SAA, but gains Centenary (La.) from the American Southwest Conference (ASC). That leaves the conference with just six teams for the current season, but two more ASC schools, Schreiner and Texas Lutheran, have already been lined-up to join next year (2013) to bring the conference back up to eight teams. A conference needs to maintain at least seven eligible teams in order to retain its automatic berth to the NCAA tournament, with a two-year grace period after losing teams. The conference which had grown to twelve schools had plans to break into two divisions to help address the travel issue, but this did not avert the conference split. The SCAC had just reinstituted a post-season tournament last year after eighteen seasons without, but champion Oglethorpe is no longer around to defend the title. The conference website suggests that the six-team playoff format used last year will be repeated even though that means all six teams will qualify including Centenary who is ineligible for post-season play.
• The American Southwest Conference (ASC) has been reduced from 15 schools to 13 with McMurry moving to Division II and Centenary (La.) switching over to the SCAC.
• The Great South Athletic Conference (GSAC) appears to be a strictly a women's sports conference after three of the conference's schools (LaGrange, Maryville, Piedmont) have jumped ship to the USA South Athletic Conference for the current season leaving the GSAC with just two schools sponsoring men's sports. Both of them (Covenant and Huntingdon) will follow suit, joining the USA South next year (2013). The GSAC already had too few men's teams to receive an automatic berth to the men's tournament; however, the conference has been receiving an automatic berth for their women's teams. Reduced from nine to six women's teams for the current campaign (with two more leaving next year), the conference will enter a two-year grace period to get back to seven eligible women's teams. In a geographical oddity, Pine Manor, a women's school from Massachusetts, will participate starting next year, but that will still leave the conference two women's teams short of the required seven.
• Shenandoah has left the USA South for the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC). Their addition brings the ODAC to twelve men's programs and thirteen women's programs, one of the largest conferences in the nation.
• The USA South Athletic Conference has lost Shenandoah to the ODAC and gained LaGrange, Maryville, and Piedmont from the GSAC for the 2012 season, good for nine men's teams and twelve women's teams. In 2013 two more schools will join from the GSAC, but the conference will loss Christopher Newport to the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC). Christopher Newport has been the conference's top overall athletic program in 14 of the last 15 years.
• The Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) has been reduced to seven teams for the current season following the departures of Stevenson and Hood for the Commonwealth Conference. The two schools had only joined the CAC in 2007, at the time off-setting loses to the Landmark Conference and NEAC. Next year will see the conference expand to 10 schools, its most ever, with the addition of Christopher Newport, Penn State Harrisburg, and Southern Virginia. Southern Virginia is transitioning from the USCAA and NAIA to Division III and will only become eligible for the NCAA tournament in 2016. Christopher Newport has already established rivalries with Salisbury and York (Pa.) in men's soccer, and it will be exciting to see that played out in the context of a conference with greater NCAA tournament implications than ever.
• The Commonwealth Conference (Messiah, et al) has added Stevenson and Hood to their ranks, bringing the conference to ten teams. In turn, the conference tournament has been expanded to five teams, with a #4 vs. #5 quarterfinal added to the playoff format.
• Houghton has begun its transition from the NAIA to Division III and has joined the Empire 8 Conference starting this year already, playing a full conference schedule. Houghton is ineligible for conference or NCAA Division III post-season play until they complete their 4-year provisional membership period in 2016. They will be able to pursue post-season opportunities through the NCCAA. How Houghton's games will be counted in the conference standings and the seeding of teams for the conference tournament is unknown at this time.
BIG AND SMALL NAME CHANGES
• Philadelphia Biblical University has renamed itself Cairn University. Together with the school's name change, the athletics program has changed its nickname from Crimson Eagles to Highlanders.
• Baldwin-Wallace College has become Baldwin Wallace University, dropping the hyphen in the process.
NEW ACTIVE DIVISION III MEMBER SCHOOLS
• Spalding (SLIAC), SUNY-Cobleskill (NEAC), and Penn State-Abington (NEAC)* have completed the Division III provisional membership process and been approved for active status. They are eligible for the NCAA tournament starting this year. (* - Penn State Albington requested and was granted a waiver allowing them to combine years 3 and 4 of the provisional process, allowing them to be eligible one year sooner than anticipated.)
• The four schools accepted to begin the four-year provisional/reclassifying membership into Division III are Houghton College, Sarah Lawrence College, Southern Virginia University, and Valley Forge Christian College. Only four schools are accepted per year even if more have completed the prerequisite exploratory year. These schools are expected to become active D-III members for the 2016-17 school year at which time they will be eligible for the NCAA tournament. Games against these four schools are still not considered as "in-region" Division III games until the schools reach Year 3 of provisional membership.
• Centenary (La.) College was approved to enter Year 3 of the reclassifying process. The former Division I school now participating in the SCAC is scheduled to be eligible for the NCAA tournament in 2014. Games against Centenary are now considered "in-region."
• Covenant College and Berry College have been approved to enter their fourth and final year of provisional membership. Covenant, who will leave the GSAC to join the USA South next year, and Berry, a founding member of the new Southern Athletic Association (SAA), will be eligible for the NCAA tournament next year. As last year, games against these two schools are considered "in-region".
According to the NCAA, the following new rules or rule changes come into effect this season (source):
• Any throw-in that does not reach the field of play will result in possession being awarded to the opposing team. Previously if the ball didn’t advance to the field of play, the player was allowed to retake the throw.
• Excessive celebration (such as rehearsed celebrations after a goal) has been added to the list of infractions that can merit a yellow card during play.
• Players will be allowed to wear technological devices during games. (Teams have begun to use such devices to track players’ heart rates and measure other physical effects for training purposes and to help coaches gage substitution patterns and other aspects of the game.) The data gleaned from these devices, though, may not be used during the game or intervals, unless verified as medically necessary.
• Coaches and staff may use electronic aids on the sidelines during games. However, the rules still continue to prohibit coaches from communicating with anyone via electronic messaging devices or phones during the game.
The throw-in rule just makes too much sense to have taken this long to be changed.
It will be interesting to see how referees interpret "excessive celebration" and penalize it, especially in big games and post-season play. There is no clarification or examples given in the newly issued Rules and Interpretations, so there is definitely the potential for controversy. Racing to the home fans, kissing or pointing to the school name, and fist-pumping as the fans go crazy . . . is that excessive? It happens all the time.
Another change to mention is that "during the last five minutes of regulation play, the referee has discretion on whether to stop the clock when the losing team is issued a caution or ejection."
Also, the tracking of yellow card cautions and red card ejections is being bolstered by expanding the responsibilities for referees and scorekeepers and requiring cautions and ejections to be confirmed and reported to the NCAA along with other basic statistics. The intent is to ensure that suspensions are being administered and served immediately. Until now, it has largely been left to the schools themselves to administer the suspensions and though most have done so without delay, there have been enough cases of unserved or delayed suspensions, including clearly premeditated delays until an easier opponent, to warrant the changes and severe penalties for unserved/delayed suspensions. "If a player who is due to miss a game because of cards does not serve the suspension, that game will be forfeited and the player will be required to miss the next two games. In addition, the head coach will be required to miss an equal number of games."
Comments or feedback for the author? Email Christan Shirk.