The list of examples showing the NCAA’s inability to adapt to the changing landscape of college athletics continues to grow every year. Archaic rules, failure to support student-athletes, and a long history of being on the wrong side of multiple major issues regarding collegiate sports have plagued the existence of the NCAA.
One of the most obvious shortcomings of the NCAA can be found in the “transition rule,” which states that a program must endure a four-year reclassification process before being eligible for NCAA and NIT tournaments across all sports.
The justification from the NCAA is that programs that reclassify must uphold the athletic and academic standards of a Division I program. The rule is another example of the blatant incompetence of the NCAA to promote growth within college athletics.
Rather than promoting the growth of programs within the subdivisions of the NCAA … The organization would rather handicap programs willing to invest the time, money, and effort that is required to facilitate a transition to the next subdivision.
One of the most unique stories in college athletics is the growth and explosion of the St. Thomas athletic program from a Division III powerhouse to Division I champions. St. Thomas won 33 Men’s MIAC All-Sports championships and 28 Women’s MIAC All-Sports championships, including winning 13 consecutive from 2008-17.
The Tommies were removed from the MIAC and were exploring opportunities at the Division II level. The Summit League pressured the NCAA to allow St. Thomas to make the transition to Division I from the Division III level.
The move was approved on July 15, 2020. St. Thomas became only the third program to make a two-level jump in NCAA history. Dayton and Buffalo both made the same transition, but the Flyers were already participating at the Division I level in basketball.
The NCAA ruled that the Tommies must serve a five-year transition process, which makes St. Thomas ineligible for postseason play until the 2025-26 season. This mandatory NCAA rule negatively impacts recruiting, opportunities for current student-athletes, and revenue for those five seasons for the Tommies.
A program that has won 15 NCAA Championships since 1982 can no longer pursue the ultimate goal of a national championship because the NCAA would rather punish programs that are making the proper investment in their student-athletes … An exact reason why many, including myself, have promoted the idea of dissolving the archaic structure of the NCAA.
The Tommies won the Pioneer Football League championship in their second season at the FCS level, including an 8-0 record against conference opponents. Rather than making an appearance in the FCS Playoffs … The Tommies had to watch Davidson, a team the Tommies defeated 27-16, take their place and proceed to lose 41-0 to Richmond in the first round.
Over the first two seasons at the FCS level, St. Thomas holds a 17-4 record and is 14-2 against Pioneer competition. I think it’s clear that the Tommies do not need four years to establish a standard within the program at the Division I level.
Merrimack is another current FCS program that made a transition from the Division II level before the 2019-20 season. The Warriors finished the 2022 season with an 8-3 record, including a 6-1 record against NEC opponents. Merrimack faced Saint Francis in the final game of the season for the conference championship, but the Red Flash entered the game with no pressure due to the Warriors not being eligible for postseason play.
The Warriors also experienced large amounts of success in men’s basketball this season as the Warriors won the NEC regular season championship. Merrimack continued their success as they defeated No. 2 seed Fairleigh Dickinson in the championship game of the NEC Tournament, but the Knights received the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
A chance for the Warriors to be the Cinderella team of the NCAA Tournament was snatched by the “transition rule,” while Merrimack had to watch Fairleigh Dickinson make history as the Knights defeated No. 1 seed Purdue in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Texas A&M-Commerce and Lindenwood both made the transition from the Division II level before the 2022 season. Both programs were able to field competitive programs in their first season at the Division I level. Texas A&M-Commerce finished .500 in conference play, including a road win over No. 19 Southeastern Louisiana. Lindenwood finished the season with a 7-3 record, with four wins over Division I opponents.
The NCAA has yet to address the obvious shortcomings of its “transition rule” despite multiple recent examples across FCS and mid-major sports. Taking opportunities away from student-athletes, while at the same time fighting to limit the ability to transfer without penalty until 2021, seems to be another major shortcoming of the organization.
The mission & priorities of the NCAA include academics, fairness, and the well-being of student-athletes across all college sports. It has been obvious since the creation of the NCAA in 1906 that the organization has continued to drift away from the initial commitment to the student-athletes by consistently ignoring the feedback of the very people who generate the money for the organization.
FCS and mid-major programs are already fighting for opportunities on the biggest stage, while also having to overcome the large financial deficit compared to the FBS. Most conferences are one-bid leagues to postseason tournaments, while most transitioning programs are also in one-bid leagues for the FCS Playoffs. This increases the importance of conference championships, tournaments, and an opportunity to compete for an automatic bid into postseason competition.
The organization that was built to protect student-athletes has become the No. 1 enemy of those very same young men and women. It’s time for the NCAA to take a step in the right direction … Change an archaic rule that limits opportunities for student-athletes and punishes programs for being competitive at the highest level of athletics.