The 2014 College World Series is underway. Here are some of my shots from the first two innings in Omaha.
TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha. Opening Game of the 2014 College World Series between UC Irvine and Texas.
There are few things in the sports world that I truly get excited for. I don’t ever get jacked up for the Super Bowl, I could care less the NBA playoffs are going on right now and the BCS championship doesn’t cause me to clear my schedule.
However, the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. is an event that has turned from “must see TV” to must “must attend and cover”.
Growing up in Nebraska, the CWS was always a sports event as a youngster that you heard about but never really fully embraced. I can remember our neighbor, who helped my dad coach our youth baseball teams, coming back from the CWS with “new drills” he saw during warmups and practices.
Living on a farm we didn’t have cable but we were blessed with one of those GIANT satellite dishes that likely could’ve started a cable company for our neighbors. That’s where I saw my first CWS game. If memory serves it was G5/9 (Satellite G5 channel 9 for those of you unfamiliar with having to rotate the dish to get your channels in).
I never got to attend a CWS game until I got to college. My roommate’s family had tickets to every CWS game (and still do for that matter) and I was lucky enough my freshman year of college to be around for one of the rare games when his family was not using all of their tickets.
I can’t remember the first teams I saw play and I don’t think that makes me any less of a fan nor does it make my experience any less significant than one of those people with a photogenic memory who could recite from memory the entire scorer’s book from their first game. (Trust me, there are people that can. I’ve met them.)
The atmosphere, the energy, the crowd, the vendors, the people with tents in their front yards… I was hooked. Just from watching on TV I knew I’d really enjoy being at the CWS. But I had no idea what that feeling would be like. It wasn’t the same feeling I had going to Nebraska football games growing up and it wasn’t the feeling I got going to KC Royals games.
This was a feeling of ownership. Like somehow by attending the CWS that part of it had become mine. I think that’s why people from Nebraska and Iowa love the event so much. They helped build it into what it has become and in return it was now “theirs”.
Ever since that first game I’ve made it as part of an annual summer tradition. When I graduated college I was lucky enough to work with the Creative Sports Network and actually broadcast some of the games leading into the CWS. I was asked to broadcast a few games that year as well, but actually had a prior commitment that prevented me from doing it. In the years following, I’ve continued to cover the CWS as a freelance journalist for various organizations.
But nothing beats the experience as a fan. Sure there were detractors that didn’t want to see the game moved from Rosenblatt to TD Ameritrade Park and I get the argument. The “homey” feeling of Rosenblatt cannot be duplicated by any other venue in the world. Honestly the closest was probably the NAIA WS in Lewiston, Idaho and I don’t just say that as the guy who covers the NAIA as his main beat.
The new venue has grown the CWS and allowed more fans to experience what really is the greatest show on dirt. (Someone should copyright that…) Whether it’s the new slough of bars in the area, the kids play area or the general sites of Omaha there truly is something for everyone at the CWS.
Match ups this year are interesting to say the least. The first game on Saturday is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. (CT), with UC Irvine playing against Texas. Saturday’s second game will have Louisville against Vanderbilt at 7 p.m. (CT). The doubleheader on Sunday features Texas Tech vs. TCU at 2 p.m. (CT) and in the evening game starting at 7 p.m. (CT), Virginia will take on Ole Miss.
The obviously storyline I am following is the return of Auggie Garrido to Omaha with Texas. I’ve always liked the way Auggie has coached his teams and embraced the CWS but after seeing the documentary about him a few years ago, how can you not love this guy. (Exhibit A – NSFW Language)
UC Irvine will obviously be the team the locals get behind. Omahans love the underdog and generally open their arms to anyone new who comes to the CWS. Plus the number of “Anteater” hats that have already been purchased from Lids in the last 20 years is probably immeasurable. Right next to those “Jimmies” and “Slippery Rock” hats.
TCU and Vandy have tradition on their side and Virginia also falls into that category with the only difference being how Omaha seems to embrace the first two a little more.
The rest of the field will have their fans and obviously will win new fans in Omaha over the next two weeks because that’s what the CWS is about. Everyone gets cheered on and everyone is loved at the CWS because once you are there you realize that while the teams and venue have changed, the sense of ownership remains the same as the first time you walked through the gates.
I’ll be covering the CWS again this year. Follow my blog, twitter or whatever for updates. Those are all linked to this article.
In February of 2009, I wrote three part article entitled “The Future of the NAIA” to help educate fans of the NAIA about some of the issues that were facing the NAIA at that time. We’re approaching what would be five years later and today I thought it would be interesting to look back at some of the things I talked about in that article and see what holds up and what was completely crazy. The article appears below in it’s entirety.
Over the next several weeks, Jason Dannelly of College Fanz will release an investigative report on the NAIA. Depending on which conference in which area of the country a person talks too, the NAIA is either doing really strong or ready to fall to pieces. There has been no doubt that the borders of the NAIA have shrank in the last 10 to 15 years but the quality of NAIA competition has grown vastly as well as the image from an organization that held a negative perception in the 1980’s.
Dannelly will talk with presidents of NAIA schools, conference commissioners and the president of the NAIA, Jim Carr, about the future of the NAIA. Both the positive and negative aspects of the NAIA will be studied as well as possible solutions. The report will be released into three separate series.
Upsetting the Apple Cart: Life in a Midwest NAIA Conference
No matter what area of life or the world one talks about, when you do something that is out of the norm people will begin to draw conclusions based upon their own hypothesis rather than going straight to the source to get the facts. That is the case with the Great Plains Athletic Conference.
The GPAC consists of 13 private, faith-based colleges and universities in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota. The roots of the conference date back to 1969 as the Nebraska Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (NIAC) and the league retains all six of its charter members – Concordia, Dana, Doane, Hastings, Midland Lutheran and Nebraska Wesleyan. In 1992, the NIAC added Northwestern and became the Nebraska-Iowa Athletic Conference. Eight years later, Dakota Wesleyan, Dordt, Mount Marty and Sioux Falls joined the conference which became the Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) in 2000-2001. Briar Cliff entered the league in 2002-2003 and Morningside became the 13th member starting with the 2003-2004 school year.
With such a strong tradition in the same conference and the same national affiliation (NAIA) any changes or thoughts of changes within the conference are often see as reason to worry. In May of 2008, the GPAC looked as if it was the leading conference in the NAIA. Membership was strong, presidents were leading pioneers in NAIA circles and the conference was possibly as stable as any college conference, NAIA or NCAA.
But then came June.
Applications by Hastings College, Concordia and Doane College to become exploratory members of NCAA DIII rocked the super conference and its membership. Little had been spoken publicly by the schools presidents about exploring DIII and none the less schools and other institutions in the GPAC began drawing their own conclusions.
In December, Dana College notified the conference they would explore the option of joining the Midwest Collegiate Conference of Iowa as a potential new member. The schools Board of Trustees will meet Friday, February 20th to make a final recommendation as to which conference affiliation is best for the Vikings.
The University of Sioux Falls has long been rumored to be making the move to NCAA DII. In recent years those rumors have gotten louder and louder as the Cougars began construction on new athletic facilities.
“Our thought was some point in the future when our facilities are 100% completed our complex as a whole would be state of the art for even the NCAA DII level,” said President Mark Benedetto of the University of Sioux Falls.
“When we near completion of our complex we will explore NCAA DII. But the economic downturn has slowed the fundraising for our complex and I do not see the University moving toward DII until our facilities near completion.”
At first glance it appears the GPAC has a lot of schools moving in a lot of different directions. But as the issued is explored further each school with perhaps Sioux Falls as the exception, seems to agree the best long term national solution for the their school is the NAIA.
But the GPAC has not been the only Midwestern conference to wonder about where its future might be.
Different Conference; Same Situation
The GPAC has faced some of the same challenges the Dakota Athletic Conference faced in 2005. During the fall of ‘05 the DAC had multiple talks about changing affiliations to NCAA DII and even brought in two special presenters from NCAA conferences.
At the turn of the century the Dakota Athletic Conference seemed to be a small college super conference. As the South Dakota Intercollegiate Conference broke apart, the DAC-10 and GPAC were formed as a mix of the NAIA’s best in the Midwest.
But as time went by, so did several members of the DAC-10. The University of Mary joined the Northern Sun (NCAA DII) while Huron University changed ownership, changed names and essentially closed their doors due to tough financial times. The shaky times in 2005 had many believing the DAC was all but done as rumors began swirling that Minot State and Black Hills State would join DII. That would begin the chain reaction of other Dakota teams exiting the NAIA and the DAC.
Dakota State applied for membership to the GPAC hoping they would be accepted to help cut back on travel costs and also to open the door to more regional games in the eastern South Dakota area with Sioux Falls, Dakota Wesleyan, Briar Cliff and Morningside. But their membership was denied before it even got to the vote. The GPAC consists of all private schools and the addition of Dakota State would have been the first state school admitted to the conference. This after Peru State had been denied membership in the previous years.
After the NCAA talks and presentations the DAC had several thoughts and ambitions with what they could do with the conference, but at the end of the day athletic director Roger Ternes of Dickinson State summed up the biggest issue concerning the DAC in a 2005 VSN article.
“I don’t care what logo is on our wall, it still doesn’t change the fact that it’s eight hours from Dickinson, N.D to Madison S.D.”
The DAC has remained in tact with no defections since 2005 as the conference has seemed to solidify its place in the NAIA.
“I think the DAC has strengthened based upon the transition from 2005 to 2009,” said Gene Wockenfuss, Athletic Director of Dakota State. “We have some great initiatives going on right now with our DAC radio show and our first ever football jamboree.
There are just a lot of good things going for the DAC.”
South of the GPAC is the Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference and the Heart of America Athletic Conference. The HAAC officially found out this month that William Jewell would move to NCAA DII, one year after the conference moved from NAIA DII in basketball to NAIA DI and one year after the Cardinals filed for DIII exploration.
Park University will leave the MCAC to move into the American Midwest Conference while MCAC members Bellevue University, College of Saint Mary and Peru State will seek membership into the Midwest Collegiate Conference. MCAC member York has applied to the GPAC.
The future of the MCAC is in question and several of its institutions are left to wonder what conference they might be playing in down the road. As the conference talks have continued, talks of institutions moving to the NCAA have been non-existent. Essentially all the members of the MCAC have looked into new NAIA conferences, rather than exploration into other divisions.
Exploration into NCAA Membership
NAIA traditionalists and sports fans across the country often times get the wrong idea when an institution files for an exploratory membership into the NCAA. The application to explore is seem by some as the first ticket out of the NAIA.
However the intent of the exploratory status is to do just that; explore. The NCAA requires any school seeking information on how each division works to file for an exploratory status in order to receive information on how each division’s rules could affect athletic aid, sponsored sports and department structure.
Many schools who are unveiling a 5-10 year plan often times file for exploratory status into the NCAA in order to present information from both the NAIA and NCAA to their board of regents or trustees
A school wishing to explore DIII for example must file paperwork with the NCAA, announce the exploration publicly and pay a $500 application fee to the NCAA. After that is completed a school can begin to study the division.
In the summer of 2008, seven NAIA members filed for exploratory DIII memberships (Berry College Ga., Concordia University Neb., Covenant College Ga., Doane College Neb., Hastings College Neb., Penn State-Abington and William Jewell Mo.). No NAIA schools filed to explore DII membership last year, but Ohio Dominican, Urbana Illinois-Springfield, King College, Lambuth and Cal-State East Bay had all previously filed and are moving forward with provisional memberships.
Ultimately schools in the NAIA explore membership with the NCAA to see what possibilities might lay on the other side of the fence.
The GPAC Presidents Weigh In
“We’re always in strategic thinking, trying to vision were we will be in five years,” said Dr. Phil Dudley, President of Hastings College. The Broncos, a founding member of the NIAC in 1969, were perhaps the biggest surprise of GPAC schools to file for a DIII exploration.
The same style of strategic thinking at Concordia University led the Bulldogs and their president, Rev. Dr. Brian L. Friedrich, to do the same last summer.
“It’s been a very good and helpful learning process for us,” said the Concordia President.
Doane College President Jonathan Brand and the Tiger Athletic Department filed for their third season of exploration into NCAA DIII. Brand, who came to Crete, Neb. from DIII Grinnell College (Iowa), has filed for the exploration each year of his presidency.
“I just think it would be unwise for us to preclude any options,” said Brand.
Even though the reason’s for filing for the exploration into DIII membership might vary from institution to institution the reason’s for staying in the GPAC and the NAIA all remain the same. All of the exploratory institution’s Presidents felt the GPAC and the NAIA was the best fit for them after an exploration of DIII
“We like the teams we play,” said President Brand of Doane College. “I don’t see us leaving the GPAC or the NAIA (anytime in the near future).”
The same thoughts were echoed from the Tigers rival to the north.
“Moving out of the GPAC or out of the NAIA is just not in the cards for us,” added Dr. Friedrich of Concordia. “We like the schools we play and we have some long standing historic rivalries”
“We plan on staying in the GPAC and the NAIA,” said Dr. Dudley of Hastings College. “We feel it’s a good fit for us.”
A Shaky Year Coming to a Close
The exploration of three schools into DIII, the shadow of DII and the potential of losing a founding member of the conference has shaken the small college super conference, making the job of Commissioner Corey Westra a difficult one over the last year. On top of the year to year initiatives that the GPAC drives to be a leader on in the NAIA, Westra was faced with trying to keep his membership together.
“It has had its challenges,” said Westra. “But I think as some of the dust has settled in the conference we are beginning to have a clearer picture of what is ahead for the GPAC.”
That picture should become clearer after the spring meeting as York College has applied for membership. The addition of York College could mean expansion for the conference or a replacement for Dana College if the Vikings move to the MCC. If the Vikings stay, York College could prove as a replacement for Sioux Falls when the Cougars complete their facilities and move toward exploring DII.
There is also the possibility of York College not being accepted into the conference which could mean the GPAC might have a slight reduction in conference games if Sioux Falls or Dana were to leave.
“There is a lot of tradition and a lot of great schools in the GPAC,” said Westra. “Personally I’d hate to see any of them leave.”
As the academic year winds down it would appear all but one of the NAIA’s Midwestern schools is staying put as William Jewell moves to NCAA DII. Sioux Falls may be the next school to transition as they have already indicated it is part of their strategic plan for athletics moving the question from a matter of “if” to a matter of “when”.
Part two of the three part series will be released early next week as Dannelly examines the coasts of the NAIA and members that have moved and are moving into the NCAA. Part three will be released next Thursday.
A Forgotten History
In 1957 the NAIA national office made the move from Pepperdine University to Kansas City, Mo. so the national office could better serve its institutions from a more centralized location. The next 30 years proved to be the NAIA’s most prolific time as membership soared to an all time high.
However in the last 15 years the NAIA membership has decreased significantly. Currently the NAIA has 291 members down from an all-time high of 588 members in 1973-74 but up from membership numbers in the last five years. However with the current state of several conferences in the NAIA, the NAIA membership may slip below 280.
Last summer the NCAA released their most recent list of potential new NCAA schools based upon those applying for provisional NCAA memberships and exploratory filings.
Houston Baptist is the lone former NAIA member moving into NCAA DI, a decision the Huskies made a few years ago. On their way from the NAIA to NCAA DII are Urbana University (Ohio), Ohio Dominican, King College (Tenn.), the University of Illinois-Springfield, Cal-State Eastbay, Dominican (Calif.) and Lambuth (Tenn.).
Moving to DIII are Lyndon State, Saint Vincent College, Geneva College (Penn.) and Spalding University. Berry College and Covenant College have not officially notified anyone if they will continue as DIII exploratory members but all signs are pointing towards the two schools in Georgia to move to the NCAA.
Once seen as equal to NCAA DII, the NAIA has fallen behind the other small college scholarship division in terms of membership and media profile. A recent article in the Canton Rep characterized the move of two Canton area NAIA institutions to the NCAA as “a gigantic leap forward.”
There is no doubt that when NCAA DII and DIII became more prevalent and gained more exposure that the NAIA was bound to lose some of the 588 members it had in the 70’s. Frankly put, some members were much better fits in NCAA DII or DIII than they ever would have been in the NAIA. DII and DIII allowed those schools to move more towards their niche.
The best of the original NAIA institutions have moved on in all major sports. This fall marked the 53rd annual NAIA football championship. Of the 80 trophies awarded to NAIA schools through the years at the NAIA DI and NAIA DII level only 16 still remain in NAIA schools. Five of those trophies were awarded to Carroll College since the year 2000, the University of Sioux Falls has three, Georgetown College has three, Northwestern (Iowa) has two, with Peru State (Neb.), NW Oklahoma State and Azusa Pacific (Calif.) holding the others.
The crown jewel of the NAIA is the NAIA DI men’s basketball tournament in Kansas City. It too has seen the same sort of casualties. In NAIA DI men’s basketball, 22 of 71 championship trophies remain in NAIA institutions trophy cases with six of those belonging to Oklahoma City and three belonging to Life University.
One of the first NAIA basketball tournaments held at Kemper Arena in Kansas City was in 1975. The NAIA moved the tournament to the newly opened Kemper and saw record crowds for the basketball tournament. However of the 32 teams selected to play in the 1975 tournament, only three of the 32 teams remain in the NAIA (Malone, William Jewell and Morningside.)
The remaining basketball championships in NAIA DII and DI women have seen some consistency with its teams sticking around. The DI women’s basketball has seen 17 of 29 trophies still in NAIA DI. NAIA DII men’s basketball has 15 of 18 trophies while NAIA DII women’s basketball has 11 of 18 trophies still in NAIA trophy cases.
The number of trophies exiting the NAIA in DI men’s basketball almost mirrors the initial exit of the NAIA from Kansas City to Tulsa and back.
There are many NAIA baseball trophies that are still in the NAIA, however most of them belong to Lewis-Clark State. If you remove the Warriors from the championships only eight of 37 trophies are still in the NAIA. With Lewis-Clark State in the mix the number elevates to 24 of 53 trophies still in NAIA trophy cases.
The Closing Borders
The border of the NAIA has moved inland in recent years. The eastern most schools of the NAIA have moved to NCAA DII or DIII with fewer schools in those regions coming into the NAIA. The West Coast has experienced the same problem with schools moving to the NCAA and fewer schools coming into the NAI A membership.
Many of these schools seemed to have found a better niche in the NCAA than what they originally had in the NAIA. With the expansion of scholarships or reduction to “non-scholarship” many of these schools needed a new home.
In 1981 the NAIA had several football conferences located around the oceans and on the borders of the United States. In the east there was Central Intercollegiate Conference (made up of schools in Virginia and the Carolinas) the West Virginia Intercollegiate Conference, the South Atlantic (made up of Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina schools) the Northwest Intercollegiate and the Evergreen (made up of Oregon and Washington schools). None of those conferences exist in the NAIA today and only four schools from these conferences exist today as NAIA members (West Virginia Tech, Southern Oregon, Eastern Oregon and Oregon Tech, a non-football member.)
The same can be said for basketball as the conferences mentioned have left the NAIA along with many others.
The problem today is the NAIA may see the same sort of exodus it saw in the 1980’s. There are several conferences contemplating their future in the NAIA, none more public than the American Mideast Conference.
On February 24th the Presidents of the AMC with meet to discuss the future of the conference. There are seven current members who are looking at forming an all Ohio NCAA DII conference while the remaining schools in the conference are trying to figure out their futures if the Ohio schools decide to bolt.
“From what I have been told, those schools are concerned with the overall viability of the NAIA,” said Dr. Paul Hennigan, President of the AMC and of Point Park University. “There are rumors amongst our Council of Presidents that it will only be a matter of time before the NAIA is absorbed into the NCAA.”
The stability of the NAIA has been in question for the last few years as the NCAA has contemplated expanding DII, DIII and the potential of a new “DIV” although talks of a new division in the NCAA have now died down.
“They are also concerned with the geographic size of our conference and by forming an all Ohio Conference that would chance significantly,” added Hennigan.
This year the AMC will lose Ohio Dominican who have already began their transition into NCAA II. The Panthers however, are not one of the Ohio institutions pushing for an all Ohio league. ODU has expressed an interest in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Conference (GLIAC) and will likely apply for official membership into the conference this summer along with Lake Erie College, who is in their second year of a provisional NCAA membership.
At the upcoming meeting Cedarville, Mount Vernon, Malone, Walsh and Notre Dame College will be among those schools looking to leave the AMC. If those schools decide to continue to move an all Ohio NCAA conference it is likely that the University of Rio Grande and Shawnee State could join the Mid South Conference, leaving Northwestern Ohio, Wilberforce, Ursuline, Point Park, Carlow, Daemon, Houghton and Roberts Wesleyan in the AMC. The move would create a large “donut” in the middle of the conference potentially pushing the New York institutions to become independents or join the once fading Sunrise Conference. The farthest travel if the New York institutions were to join the new conference would be about 13 hours from Daemon College to the University of Maine-Fort Kent.
The Mid South Conference was once thought to be a NAIA conference that was on its way out because of the lack of full members. A majority of schools in the Mid South joined the conference primarily as a football conference and at one time the conference almost dipped below the minimum six schools to receive an automatic bid for basketball. Fast forward five years and the Mid South Conference could see their full membership number push to above ten with the addition of Virginia-Wise and possible additions of the AMC’s Rio Grande and Shawnee State.
The changing of conferences and divisions has created a ripple effect in the NAIA. Virginia-Wise joining the Mid South reduced the number of members of the Appalachian Athletic Conference for the upcoming year. Covenant also appears to be leaving the AAC for NCAA DIII and King College will be moving to NCAA DII. Montreat College is unsure of what its future in the conference might be. The school located in Montreat, N.C. is a school stuck between a rock and a hard place as they try to determine what is best for their institution overall. The school recently announced they will move away from awarding athletic scholarships and are contemplating a move to NCAA DIII. The potential moves in the conference could take the AAC from ten this last season to six in the near future.
“The intent is to make it real clear that we are first and foremost a Christ-centered, liberal arts college,” Montreat President Dr. Dan Struble said in a recent Ashville Citizen Times article. “We intend to be involved in athletics, but we hope to have a culture with our students and student-athletes alike that is similar and that is really academic in nature and is a real coherent community.”
Despite the evident changes in the AAC, Mid South Conference and other conferences, the AMC is hoping to retain its current members for at least a little while.
“We are hoping to preserve the AMC conference for a minimum of two years,” said President Hennigan. “The six presidents (in Ohio) that I have talked to privately are all committed to forming their own conference.”
Without question all talks are that conference will be a NCAA Conference. It appears the eastern contingent of the NAIA feels very strongly that the future of the NAIA is bleak.
“At this point I wonder the value of two national associations (NAIA and NCAA),” added Hennigan. “With the NAIA losing membership at the rate it has, I don?t understand the differentiation anymore, and I don’t understand the need for it. It’s probably better to find a way for all the resources to come together.”
Walsh and Malone both recently expressed their intent to officially file for NCAA DII. Charles Grimes, athletic director of Malone, weighed on the current image struggle they have in their region with the NAIA.
“Everybody seems to know the NCAA,” Grimes said in a recent Canton Rep interview. “We struggle with that a little bit. We often say, ‘This is our situation,’ and the kid says, ‘Are you a Division II school? Are you a Division III school?’ And we say, ‘We’re actually a part of the NAIA.’ And they go, ‘Oh, what?s that?’ “
NAIA President Jim Carr and Kevin Dee of the NAIA will attend the AMC meeting on the 24th to talk about that subject with the presidents of the conference. Conference commissioner Dr. Jim Houdeshell will also be at that meeting and he feels that the decision could go either way.
“I just think saying anything officially before the meeting is premature. I’ve been around these meetings for a long time and I just know that when everyone gets together that opinions and decisions may change,” said Houdeshell.
The West Coast of the NAIA has faced the same problems as the East Coast. Enrollments grew; scholarships expanded to DII levels or were cut to DIII levels and as teams left the NAIA schedules shrank and distances widened. One of the first conferences to leave for NCAA DIII was the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) in the 1970’s opening up a void in Southern California as well as the Northwest Conference in the 1990’s. The SCIAC and the NWC were the only conferences on the West Coast that most NAIA schools could compete with. The NWC does schedule games on a regular basis with NAIA schools while the SCIAC plays very few NAIA teams.
Two year’s ago seven NCAA DII schools formed the Pacific West Conference. Six of the seven schools are former NAIA members with Dixie State, a former junior college, being the only exception. The California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) has long been a NCAA DII conference and boasts one of the highest per school average enrollments with six of its 11 members over 14,000 undergraduate students. The Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) is also a DII member.
One of the biggest issues in terms of scheduling on the West Coast for DII and the NAIA comes in the sport of football, were there are a limited number of schools. The DIII schools in California hardly ever play anyone outside of their conference or offer very limited amounts of non-conference games to scholarship opponents. Current the NAIA has two independent members, Southern Oregon and Azusa Pacific who struggle to even find a complete schedule. The GNAC had played a double-round robin to complete their schedule but Western Washington’s recent elimination of a football program has all the schools the NCAA’s DII conference struggling for games much the NAIA.
The answer for the GNAC might be the addition of Canadian schools like the University of British Columbia or Simon Fraser, both of whom are in the process of potentially leaving the NAIA for NCAA DII membership.
“It looks more and more like it’s a perfect fit for where we should be,” said athletic director David Murphy of Simon Fraser in a recent USA today article. Simon Fraser’s undergraduate enrollment is over 20,000 while the University of British Columbia’s undergraduate enrollment is near 23,000 making them two of the largest in the NAIA.
Both of the NAIA’s current California conferences have lost members or have considered a complete jump to the NAIA. Athletic Directors and Presidents in the Golden State Athletic Conference have discussed the potential move in great depth and strongly considering the move to NCAA DII two years ago. But right now their is a strong commitment to keeping the conference together, and currently in the NAIA. Dominican University and Cal-State East Bay, both of the Cal Pac, have already applied for NCAA DII.
Currently, there is no answer for NAIA football on the West Coast. Several schools have contemplated adding football in recent years but none have been able to pull the trigger. At one time, there were talks of starting a West Coast Football League in the NAIA, but those talks have also come to a halt.
NAIA baseball faces the same issues in the Northwest. This season marks the first year of the West Coast Baseball League where eight NAIA members have formed a conference for direct qualification purposes. The league stretches from Canada to northern California.
The future of many of the NAIA’s conferences on the coasts appears to be dim or at least cloudy at this point. As time wears on, the NAIA and the NCAA should have a much clearer picture as to what institutions will participate in their affiliations as they begin to work together on several national issues.
Looking Back While Looking Forward
Frosty Westering, a retired football coach at NCAA DIII Pacific Lutheran, is famous for his coaching style and personality. Divisions and affiliations have never meant much to Coach Westering as he is a true believer that college athletics are a place for people to find themselves, mature and learn real life lessons from athletics. The lasting lesson from Westering, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, is that no matter where you are or what you do the main goal of life is to always “make the big time where you are.”
When Jim Carr became President of the NAIA, one of the first things he did was sit down with Myles Brand, the President of the NCAA, to make sure Brand understood the NAIA mission and the relevance of the division.
“He and I quickly learned there should be ways for the two organizations should partner.”
From that point forward the two began looking at the varying ways for the NCAA and NAIA programmatically partner as well as ways for NCAA DII and DIII schools to schedule NAIA schools without it hurting the NCAA schools in terms of schedule or postseason qualification. Once those two objectives were met, the NAIA and NCAA would look at perhaps a broader partnering of programs.
As the last two years have gone by the two affiliations have worked together on a few programmatic partnerships they are now ready to test. The first of which the NAIA membership will have an opportunity to vote on this spring.
The NCAA has agreed to create an NAIA eligibility center to work jointly with the NCAA’s current eligibility center. The partnership would allow the NAIA to take advantage of some of the synergies and investment the NCAA has already made into their eligibility verification. The initial eligibility, the amateurism and competitive experience would all go through the “NAIA Clearinghouse” which would become part of the NCAA’s current system.
No one can predict right now how that vote will turn out as there appears to be three different groups of opinions. The first is that the partnership of the NAIA with NCAA for eligibility would take the NAIA away from its trust based/self reporting philosophy. Others feel the partnership gives the NAIA instant credibility in the way the affiliation operates as well as giving the NAIA visibility to athletes that might not currently know about the NAIA. Essentially an athlete would be notified if they were NAIA eligible, NCAA eligible or both. The final group of opinions waiver between an adoption of both of the first two ideas.
“I think it would be a good thing for us because of the credibility and the visibility it will give us,” said Carr. “But I also know that anytime you enter into a new way of operating that you have to be ready to accept change and compromises and that is the part that I am usure if our membership is there yet.”
The NAIA eligibility center is just a toe in the water, so to speak. The scheduling portion of the partnership between the NAIA and NCAA is a much tougher road for the simple fact there are a lot of coaches associations who have passed stipulations in each sport which effect how teams are selected regionally and nationally for postseason competition.
There are many NAIA members that are located in large pockets of NCAA schools. Those schools will currently not schedule many games against the NAIA because a loss to an NAIA school will hurt the NCAA school when they are rated or looked at for the postseason. The current system in the NCAA offers no incentive or even neutral reaction for a DII or DIII school to play an NAIA school.
Depending on how the programmatic partnership works out for eligibility, the NAIA would move forward with more potential partnerships if this idea is received well by the membership. Scheduling with NCAA schools would be toward the top of the list.
Despite the positive talks of the NAIA moving forward and partnering with the NCAA, there have been some in the NAIA membership that have jumped to conclusions prior to knowing all of the facts.
“I think some of these discussions have had unintended consequences,” said Carr. “Talk of the NAIA and NCAA partnering in a broader way has caused some people to think they need to start making quicker decisions on their membership.”
The idea behind working on potential programs together was so that institutions trying to make decisions on affiliations would give the current partnership talks time to play out. Then, depending on what changes were made or partnerships were created, members could then make a decision on if the NAIA or NCAA would be best for their future.
“I still do not understand why people may feel the need to rush to any decisions at this point,” Carr added.
Several school administrators in the NAIA have gone on record saying “it will only be a matter of time before the NAIA is bought out by the NCAA.” But that notion is one that the NAIA and the NCAA see little benefit in.
“There is not much incentive for the NCAA to buy the NAIA,” said Carr. “If you were running a business why would you buy a company that is not driving revenue. In these economic times they are looking for ways to cut expenses at the DI level.
I think (the NCAA) is interested in figuring out a way for us to come together and work to make intercollegiate athletics more understandable to perspective student athletes. But there has been no talk of the NCAA ‘buying’ the NAIA. I just don’t think that is part of the equation.”
NAIA; The Fourth Division
There was fear a few years ago from some NAIA members and NCAA DIII members that a fourth division would be added to the NCAA. The additional division would have split DIII and potentially allowed for new members from the NAIA and DII to move into DIII or DIV if they felt it was a better fit than their current situation. However, the move the make a fourth division in the NCAA failed. Carr feels the failed fourth NCAA division allows the NAIA and NCAA to work even more closely on defining the mission of all the current collegiate divisions. The idea behind the fourth division was to provide different choices for schools based on a number of different criteria. The biggest struggle is trying to determine what the criteria would be.
“Part of my hope is we can work together to better define what the four current divisions are (DI, DII, DIII, and NAIA). If we can work closer with the NCAA, school who are trying to make a decision on membership can make that decision based on facts rather than what different people are telling them.”
There are several reasons why NAIA members have left in recent years but the majority of reasons typically come back to one of two key components; regional play and championship reimbursement.
With the economic times as they are all college’s and universities are looking to save money on travel. In some cases the move to the NCAA has opened up an opportunity for less travel due to newly formed conferences.
The biggest difference between the NAIA and NCAA comes in the area of postseason travel reimbursement. The NCAA reimburses institutions for their travel to national championships in all sports while the NAIA does not fully reimburse for travel to their championships. Trying to win a national title in the NAIA will cost institutions quite a bit of money if they are not financially prepared.
“We fundraise year round for championships in all of our sports,” said Bruce Parker, athletic director at Carroll College. “It’s something that we plan for and we hope happens. If it doesn’t we allocate that money for the next year or to other area’s in order to make us a championship program.”
Even though the cost of making it to an NAIA championship is seen as pricy at times it is still less expensive than becoming an NCAA member. If a school figures in the cost of the additional employees, increase costs of insurance, increased scholarship costs and a few other items; being an NAIA member becomes less expensive than an NCAA member even if you are paying your way to national championships with little reimbursement. When it comes to postseason reimbursements schools have to consider the NCAA operates on a 600 million dollar budget while the NAIA operates on a four million dollar budget. In reality, the 50 percent reimbursement the NAIA does offer is rather high given the budget of the national office.
Ohio (Come Back to … NAIA)
But even once the NAIA does the calculations and presents the facts to member institutions some will still decide to leave. The schools in Ohio seem to think at this point an affiliation with the NCAA will move their schools forward and bolster their image.
“For schools in the position of those six private institutions, DII can be a pretty tough place to be for schools if they want to come at the national level because DII can be dominated fairly good sized public institutions,” said Carr.
The thought coming from the NAIA’s Ohio members looking at the NCAA is they might be able to capture some of the glamour that comes with being an NCAA school which would aid them in recruiting. Being able to be recognized in the same governing body as the Ohio State University and other schools in the area would help level the playing field when it comes to recruiting.
“It’s their choice to look at something different, said Carr. “But we are certainly going to talk with them through their exploratory phase that competing in the NAIA will make more sense.”
At the end of the day it looks like the talks about the NAIA going away, disbanding or imploding are coming more from member institutions who are crying wolf or trying to move their own agenda forward rather than keeping the entire organization in mind. The core of the NAIA is still very solid with 291 members with most of those administrations ready to see how the NAIA will improve in the coming years, rather than jumping ship into a situation that might hurt their athletic programs because they did not wait to see what the future held.
“People want that small institution feel,” said Carr. “We offer a niche in comparison to NCAA DII at looking at athletics in a different way and fortunately there are nearly 300 schools that feel the same way. Right now we are making sure we adapt to the times and try to save everyone a little money.”
There are major issues with the NAIA losing membership in certain areas. But as the NAIA works with the NCAA to resolve scheduling conflicts between the two affiliations the ability to save money with more regional games will certainly help NAIA members in fringe areas to schedule more games that will have incentive to their NCAA opponents.
The NAIA and NCAA must work to take away the penalty or negative look that coaches associations of NCAA schools currently have when playing NAIA institutions. Most of the current DII and DIII schools were once NAIA institutions. Through financial gains, enrollment increases and good campus management many of these schools were able to expand their offerings. Their campuses grew and so did their athletic departments, so a move to the NCAA made sense. But what does not make sense is to penalize schools for wanting to play NAIA schools, especially since it is part of many of the NCAA’s schools histories.
NCAA DII is recruiting new members very aggressively and there are some members of the NAIA that are a good fit for the NCAA. The schools are moving their entire athletic program and campus forward. Schools that put the money into scholarships, staffing and facilities to compete at the DII level will/should pursue the move to the NCAA. Schools willing to only do the bare minimum or slightly above the minimum should consider making those increases at the NAIA level to become a national power and continue to grow their enrollment in order for their entire school to be better off, not just the athletic program. In essence, if you are not “all in” at becoming competitive nationally in the NCAA, the NAIA is a better home for your school.
At the end of the day, it would seem college athletic programs need to look more at what they are doing to make themselves the best in all aspects of their program. All schools are evaluating what they need to do in order to move forward. The only thing schools need to remember is they need to “make the big time where they are at” and not what they think the big time should be by comparing themselves to other schools that have different financial means, alumni support and scholarship support.