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By Gary Brown
SAN ANTONIO – Action taken on Jan. 15, 2011, made April 19, 2012, a big day for Division III.
With the adoption of 2011 Convention Proposal No. 5 at Saturday’s business session, Division III delegates OK’d the division’s 28th championship – the Division III Men’s Volleyball Championship – the first of which will be April 19-21, 2012, at a site to be determined.
Based on current sponsorship (57 schools for 2011), the first championship would tentatively consist of an eight-team bracket played out at a single site. A four-member Division III Men’s Volleyball Committee will be established to determine selection criteria and other elements of championship administration. Institutions sponsoring men’s volleyball will be divided into two regions for the purpose of defining in-region competition and evaluating teams. Two committee members will be assigned to each of those two regions.
The Division III Championships Committee will determine appropriate conditions for conferences (single or multisport) to receive automatic qualification to the championship as it deems necessary to administer the event. That could include waiving the existing requirement that a conference exist for two years before receiving AQ privileges.
Anticipating that delegates would adopt the proposal from the City University of New York Athletic Conference and the Great Northeast Athletic Conference to establish the new championship, the Division III Management Council in October approved some playing-and-practice-season parameters to get things started.
First, men’s volleyball in Division III will be considered a spring sport (as it is already for the National Collegiate championship) and operate with a 19-week playing and practice season, just as for all other spring sports.
The sport will have 22 dates of competition in the traditional segment and one date in the nontraditional segment. That’s a significant change for programs currently playing under the National Collegiate championship model, in which 28 dates are allowed.
Men’s volleyball programs will be limited to a total of 16 days of athletically related activity during the nontraditional segment, which includes the one date of competition. Additionally, they can have up to five weeks in the nontraditional segment and have no more than four days of athletically related activity per week.
Programs may use contest exemptions only during the traditional segment (with the exception of the alumni contest, which may be used in either segment). Additionally, teams may exempt any dates of competition against an active member institution in Hawaii, Alaska or Puerto Rico only once every four years.
The general parameters mirror those that exist for women’s volleyball, with the exception of the length of the playing and practice season (as a fall sport, women’s volleyball is subject to an 18-week limitation). The most controversial is the reduction in dates from 28 to 22 in the championship segment and from four to one in the nontraditional segment.
Many women’s teams operating under the 22-date maximum get a lot of their contests in by playing multiple matches on individual competition dates. Men’s volleyball programs typically stage dual-match competitions, in part because there aren’t as many Division III men’s programs near one another to make it feasible.
A USA Volleyball survey this past fall revealed some concern that a reduction in dates could translate to a reduction in competition opportunities. Some coaches resisted the multiple-match format because they don’t feel that student-athletes are able to give the same effort in the second match that they did in the first. Others, though, were comfortable with modeling the playing and practice season after the women’s.
In adopting the parameters, the Management Council noted that volleyball currently is the only sport that has different competition limits for male and female teams. Basketball, cross country, golf, gymnastics, ice hockey, lacrosse, skiing, soccer, tennis, track and field, and water polo all have the same maximum competition limits for men and women. Members also pointed out that 28 dates of competition is significantly more than any other Division III spring sport (golf, 20; lacrosse, 17; rowing, 20; tennis, 20; track, 18; women’s water polo, 21).
The new playing and practice season guidelines won’t become effective until the 2011-12 men’s volleyball season. A waiver is available for institutions that have existing contractual obligations that take them over the 22-date limit.
While Division III men’s volleyball programs have been eligible for the National Collegiate Men’s Volleyball Championship, few have ever been selected. However, Molten – which manufactures the official ball used in NCAA play – has sponsored a championship for Division III programs for the last 14 years.
Current rules provide an exemption for practicing for and competing in that event, since it was the only realistic postseason option available for Division III teams. However, with the adoption of Convention Proposal No. 5, the Management Council eliminated that exemption.
If that postseason tournament continues, participating teams can exempt it from the contest limitations if they aren’t selected for the NCAA championship field, but it would have to fit within the 19-week season and be concluded before completion of the NCAA tournament.