New format for Division III hoops up for debate

Posted Online: March 08, 2013, 8:51 pm
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Tom Johnston,
I should have known better.

Quick to chastise a questionable decision, I was about to do the unthinkable and credit the governing body of a sports organization for doing the right thing and making a good call about an activity it oversees.

The NCAA Division III men's basketball championship this season is ending the same weekend as the NCAA Div. I Final Four in Atlanta. How cool will that be for those two teams who survive to get to play for a Div. III title on the same weekend that the best collegiate players are battling it out in their Final Four?

This year's NCAA Div. III championship game is schedule for April 7, the Sunday between the Big Dance's Saturday semis and Monday championship tilt.

Pretty cool, even though the DII and DIII title games will be played at Philips Arena (home of the Atlanta Hawks) and not in the Georgia Dome where the DI Tourney is played to its conclusion.

The chance to play for a DIII title the same weekend as the "big boys'' is just a one-time deal, though. Maybe that, as it turns out, is a good thing. The NCAA and the Division III Management Council approved the format change to coincide with the 75th men's basketball celebration being held in Atlanta.

"It's receiving very mixed reviews,'' said Augustana coach Grey Giovanine. "It's an unbelievable thing for the two teams who get to play for the title.''

This change comes with plenty of baggage. It might not go quite so far as to test the integrity of this year's Div. III tournament, but the dynamics of the event are definitely changed.

Normally, the Div. III basketball tournament is wrapped up in a tidy three-week run. The first weekend of the tournament, teams gather for two- or four-team pods that cut the 60-plus schools in the tournament to the Sweet 16. The second weekend of four more four-team "tournaments'' determines the Final Four. Weekend 3 culminates in Salem, Va., where the semis and title game are played on back-to-back nights.

This year, though, to get the title game to April 7, the tournament format doesn't look anything like past years. The first weekend of play featured 30 games with two teams receiving byes (and not playing for over three weeks). Those winners then had a week until this Saturday's second round. The third round is an entire week later. The quarterfinals and semifinals are then scheduled for March 22-23 in Salem.

Another 15 days pass before the title game.

This year's playoff schedule means there will be a 41-day period between when the bracket was announced and the April 7 title game. The usual Division III tournament runs 19 days.

"A lot of folks are not inclined to think that was a good thing,'' said Giovanine of the schedule change that draws out the tourney so long.

So does that make it a tainted title?I won't go that far, since the matchups haven't been affected. Speaking of the schedule, the three Augie foes from the CCIW all have very intriguing games on Saturday after winning last weekend's openers. CCIW Tourney champ North Central "hosts'' DIII defending champ UW-Whitewater in Lisle because of the NCAA Div. III Indoor Track & Field Championships at Gregory Arena. Illinois Wesleyan (vs. Washington University) and Wheaton (vs. St. Thomas, ranked No. 1 in the final national poll) are on the road.

But it could be a title won by a team that may not have survived the rigors of the regular tournament grind.

"For teams that don't have a lot of depth, it's advantageous,'' said Giovanine, who notes that his teams are always built for back-to-back games as are normally needed at tourney time. "You get a whole week to recover and you don't have to play back-to-back. The Friday-Saturday event lends itself much better to teams that play more people, maybe play a faster style and higher-possession game. It could very much impact who advances. I'm not sure it would be the same teams.''

For one year, though, that's the way the tourney will be played.

Maybe that's the good thing about this year's tournament.


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