Commentary: D-III Tournament Expansion Comes with Caveats

The expansion of the men’s Division III tournament is long overdue. But its implementation far from perfect.

As reported earlier today at (D-III Tournament Expanded to 9 Teams), the two bottom-ranked teams selected for the tournament from the East will face off in a one-game play-in round on Wednesday, March 6, 2002. The winner of that game would then travel to
play in the West, if there are three teams selected from that region.

Under this arrangement, a team could be faced with traveling on Tuesday to play a Wednesday game. Should that visitor win the play-in round, it could then have to fly the next day to play a quarterfinal round on the following Friday and Saturday. That would mean three games in four days, hundreds or thousands of miles of travel, and a week or more of missed classes.

If this season’s selection criteria had been used last year, Amherst would probably have been chosen for the second Pool “C” at-large berth, as the Lord Jeffs were narrowly beaten out by Wisconsin-River Falls for last year’s lone Pool “C” slot, and would likely have traveled to RIT for the quarterfinals.

If the lowest two teams from the East were chosen for the play-in round, without some tweaking of the seeds for travel reasons, Lebanon Valley would have visited New England College for a play-in game, a distance of about 400 miles. That would have followed a jaunt to Providence, R.I. the previous Wednesday, where the Dutchmen beat Johnson & Wales, and to Boston that Saturday for the ECAC Northeast championship win over Wentworth.

Had that hypothetical play-in meeting happened between Lebanon Valley and New England College, and had it resulted in a Dutchmen victory, Lebanon Valley would then have flown to Wis.-River Falls, after 2,000 miles on a bus in a week’s time.

Had New England College won, it would still have had to fly to River Falls, but would have had the additional penalty of an extra game two nights earlier.

The other flaw in the expansion’s selection criteria is only a problem for the Pool “B” teams. Before the current six automatic bids, and the creation of Pools “B” and “C”, only three conferences — the SUNYAC, NCHA, and MIAC — had automatic bids, and the other five teams were chosen at-large. In those years, there were times that both a strong RIT and a strong Elmira made the NCAA tournament. Under the recent and current selection criteria, only one team from the ECAC West can make the playoffs because that conference, with six teams, doesn’t meet the criteria for an autobid.

(The ECAC could rectify that situation with some realignment. With 16 teams in the ECAC Northeast, 10 in the East, and six in the West, it would make sense for Lebanon Valley and Skidmore to move to the West to round that league out to eight teams. Don’t hold your breath.)

Expansion is a good move, especially when you consider that Division I has 12 berths and would like 16, yet has a smaller number of teams than D-III.

But this new arrangement penalizes the No. 8 team, always puts an extra burden on the last two seeds from the East, neglects a strong team from Pool “B”, and, by requiring a team to possibly miss a whole week of class time, runs counter to the image of the “student-athlete” that the NCAA, especially at Division III, wishes to maintain.