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NAIA makes changes to postseason tournaments

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The Dakota Wesleyan University women's basketball team prepares for its game against Indiana Wesleyan this past March at the NAIA Division II national tournament at Sioux City, Iowa.

Changes are coming to the NAIA postseason tournaments.

The NAIA recently announced changes to postseason tournaments for a handful of sports, as voted upon by the NAIA National Administrative Council (NAC).

The changes will go into effect in the 2020-21 season. Some of the changes were originally slated to begin in 2021-22, but the association sped up the process to help lessen the financial burden on its institutions.

“There certainly are a lot of changes forthcoming,” Great Plains Athletic Conference Commissioner Corey Westra said. “Some have been on a little bit more of an accelerated plan than maybe we have originally thought and some of that does have to do with COVID-19 and financially implications for the member institutions of the NAIA. But I think the NAIA has done a really good job of taking a deep look at the cost of postseason tournaments.”

To help eliminate expenses, the NAIA has placed a premium on regionalized sites for postseason play. Basketball will shift from two divisions to one division this upcoming season.

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With the switch to one division comes a change to the postseason as 16 host sites from around the country will host an NAIA opening round tournament with four teams. The champion of each opening round will advance to the 16-team field final site in Sioux City, Iowa (women’s) and Kansas City, Missouri (men’s).

Teams that qualify to the postseason via an automatic bid will be placed at regional sites to limit travel costs. There will still be at-large bids for the rest of the 64-team tournaments. For the GPAC, it will still receive two automatic bids. The regular-season champion will be awarded the league’s first bid to the tourney. If the regular-season champion wins the postseason tournament, the regular season runner-up will receive an automatic bid.

The complete list of host sites are to be determined. But in January, the NAIA did announce a slate of host sites for the opening round tournaments. Omaha, Nebraska, Park City, Kansas and Wichita, Kansas, were selected as host sites for both men’s and women’s events from 2021 through 2024.

“I think the Omaha site is one that the GPAC has been identified as a site to go to,” Westra said. “It makes complete sense. It’s regional for almost everybody within the conference, but there’s also options for people to still put bids in to host.”

The at-large process will also look different moving forward. It will not just be based on national ratings and there’s going to be a selection committee to determine the field. In addition to the national ratings, the committee will determine at-large teams based on RPI, taking into consideration strength of schedule, opponents strength of schedule and win/loss percentage.

“That’s a pretty big shift,” Westra said. “But we think that’s a really strong move in the right direction. We’ve kind of been advocating for a while basketball probably should go to that model.”

Women’s volleyball tournament will open with 48 teams vying for 24 spots in a single-elimination round. The winners will advance to the 24-team final site field (down from 32) in Sioux City. Schools can bid to host matches in the round of 48.

“If you are a highly-rated team you can put in to bid as long as you meet the specifications of what the NAIA requires as a facility,” said Westra, who sits on the ratings and postseason selection committee of the NAC. “There will be no neutral sites and 24 home sites. Maybe that will move toward neutral in the future, but that’s where volleyball and basketball are a little different.”

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The final site will feature eight pools of three with the winner of each pool advancing to the final single-elimination tournament. The change is being made to eliminate early morning and late evening matches as well as to spread out the semifinals and the championship games to separate days.

“What we really wanted to work toward was not having the national semifinals and national championship be on the same day,” Westra said. “It’s a really tight turnaround to be playing at a high level.”

Men’s and women’s soccer are also going to a similar model. Instead of a 15-site three-team tournament to reach the final site, the NAIA will now host a 10-site four-team tournament to qualify for the final site -- a reduction of five teams from the postseason.

Also, an extra day of rest is being built into the schedule between the final game of the opening round and the first day of the final site.

“Soccer actually ended up getting a day off now in the national tournament,” Westra said. “That’s kind of one thing we were hearing is those kids were so exhausted by the end of the championship week. So we built in some rest in the national championships, which I think is really wise.”

Related Topics: NAIA
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