NCAA Needs 5 Leagues of 64 Teams Each

With the end of another regular basketball season, and the kick-off of March Madness, it’s time to realign the NCAA structure, as Div. I has become home for several small colleges, who don’t belong there, and there are now so many overgrown universities in Div. II and III, the original purpose of divisions, which was to divide schools based on size, has been lost.

As a solution, the NCAA should strictly limit Div. I to the largest 320 colleges, and divide them into five 64-member leagues, built along geographic lines, for the convenience of traveling fans, players, and coaches. They would be known as the: 1) Pacific-64; 2) Southwest-64; 3) Great Lakes-64; 4) Southeast-64; and 5) Northeast-64. Each would take the largest 64 schools in their area.

The five leagues would be particularly useful in determining post-season bids to the March Madness tourney, as each would have exactly 64 teams, and would be able to hold three equally exciting pre-March tournaments in Nov., Dec., and Jan.

The large colleges, stated as a percentage of the 2,363 full-time 4-year campuses, would constitute the upper 14.5%. The cut off for Div. I would be roughly 9,095 students, depending more precisely on the needs of each region. In determining college size, every full-time graduate and undergraduate student would be counted.

The new 320-team Div. I should be created, since the big schools, including the 56 with more than 30,000, as well as the 74 with 20,000 to 30,000, are ginning up easy victories in lopsided non-conference games against very small Div. I colleges. This season for instance, Wisconsin-Madison (35,000) crushed tiny Wofford (1,439) 69-33; Colgate (2,837) 68-41; and Savannah St. (3,820) 66-33.

Other Big-10 schools also padded their schedules with easy wins. Ohio State blew away Valparaiso (2,917) 80-47; Indiana took care of Stetson (2,200) 84-50; and Illinois stepped on Quincy (1,269) 73-45. Some undersized colleges apparently like getting worked over. Following a whipping by Penn State 72-43, little Mt. St. Mary (2,373) was beaten up again by Minnesota 85-56, and after Wisconsin took Mississippi Valley (2,500) out to the woodshed, 79-45, Northwestern worked them over once more, 92-67.

There is usually no doubt as to outcome in games between little colleges of 1,500, and universities of more than 30,000. While tiny colleges certainly want Div. I exposure, and occasionally field truly exceptional teams, big school play should be limited to the largest 320, since they are the only ones who can consistently provide real competition, and insure victories are in fact earned. It’s time to stop the biggest schools from scheduling easy wins against runt-size opponents, who truly belong in Div II or III.

But the problem is not confined to Div. I, since there are 80 large colleges lurking around in Div. II and Div. III, where they have no place. While Div. II has 48 large schools, such as Wayne State, with its 30,909 students, Div. III also provides shelter for another 32 big schools, each claiming at least 9,000. These large universities have overgrown their welcomes, and it’s time they joined Div. I.

The State of Wisconsin is one of the worst offenders, as they permit four of their large campuses, including UW-Oshkosh (12,753), and UW-Eau Claire (11,140), to compete in Div. III post-season play, against schools one-tenth their size. Would you just say nothing if you saw high school bullies roughing up 8th grade boys?

As to academics, institutions like Northwestern (Big-10) and Stanford (Pac-12) have consistently shown smart people can walk and chew gum at the same time, and being intelligent is no excuse for not finding the appropriate playground. If Div. III schools don’t want to provide financial aid for athletes, they should carry that policy forward. What’s the harm? If they just don’t want to compete in Div. I, using the scholarly talent they have, they could always quit the coveted 320, and let the next in line fill in.

While several small schools would likely oppose a realignment based strictly on size, as they would want to stay in Div. I, or gain access to it, despite meager enrollments, if the NCAA makes exceptions, others will come knocking. A new Div. I, using just the 320 largest schools, should be adopted, and the NCAA should then stick to it, by drawing a clear line in the sand.

Over the next few weeks, during the build-up to the March Madness final, I will post the specific teams assigned to each of the five 64-member leagues, at: Realignments for Div. II and III will follow.

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