Q&A: Championships Committee Chair Jeff Martinez
The Division III Championships Committee met last week in Indianapolis. The committee discussed such issues as Division’s III requirements to play a percentage of contests against in-region opponents, the impact of rising costs on the student-athlete experience at championships, the impact of membership growth on championships access and the integrity of the process of selecting teams for championships. Committee Chair Jeff Martinez, director of athletics at Redlands, answered questions following the meeting about those issues and about the committee’s ongoing efforts to improve Division III championships.
Q: The committee devotes considerable time to preserving the idea of in-region competition, both for practical reasons and also for philosophical reasons. Why is ensuring that teams play against regional opponents important for Division III and the championships committee?
A: I think it’s important for us because it’s an important part of the Division III philosophy. It’s always been important to the Management Council and the Presidents Council, and so it’s important that we always keep it in mind in the decisions that we make as well. I think many of the decisions that have been made over the last four or five or six years -- such as expanding in-region to include your 200-mile radius -- were statements of how important it is that we pay attention to that.
It’s probably going to be even more important as we look to the future and increased travel costs. How important it is to stay home, to stay in and compete in your area?
Q: Much of your effort has been devoted to balancing the philosophical desire to play in-region as much as possible with various challenges. Do you feel that the committee has been pretty successful in being able to strike that balance?
A: Yeah, I think so. One thing during my time on this committee that really has opened my eyes is that while we may feel geographically isolated, being in a league in southern California -- and there are counterparts in similar situations in the Northwest Conference and elsewhere -- we’re not unique in facing those challenges. One of the pluses we have is the weather. In golf and tennis and so on, we get full seasons; we don’t have the challenge of split seasons that many others have. So there are a number of places and institutions in the country that have even greater geographical and regional challenges than we do. That’s been an eye-opener for me.”
Q: The 200-mile radius component and the geographical and sport region components, putting all those options together, seems to have been aimed at relieving some of those issues for schools that have difficulties, while preserving the philosophical goal.
A: That’s correct. And we took one more step during this meeting (recommending that games between members of the same conference that compete in different regions be regarded in-region, without requiring a waiver of current legislation). Again, while we may be geographically isolated in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, we have a tremendous relationship within the conference (whose members all are in the same region), and 75 percent of our competition is in our league…. You can be in the same league but not the same region, or be in the same membership region but not in the same geographic region, and so on. By adding conference competition, that alleviates the challenge for a league like the University Athletic Association or the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference. It will help those folks, which in turn helps the (sport) championship committees as they try to work through their bracketing situations and try to compare institutions from different areas.
Q: The committee also talked about the increasing challenges posed by current economic conditions -- higher fuel costs, fewer seats being available on planes as the NCAA scrambles to get teams to championship sites, or the difficulty of obtaining nearby hotel rooms and the cascading effect that has on costs. How does all this play out for the student-athlete experience? How difficult is it to maintain the kind of experience you’ve been able to achieve over the past few years -- a pretty considerable emphasis of the committee -- and is there any danger of not being able to preserve even the experience that you’ve been able to achieve as these costs continue to escalate?
A: It’s important to maintain that (experience). That’s the focus of the committee’s work. Obviously, there are different opinions about the level of that experience, about what exactly does that mean. But for me as committee chair and I think the committee, our work always ultimately has been directed toward the student-athlete experience.
We have to pay attention to costs. But I’d much rather do it by focusing on the experience and then trying to address the challenges of cost, as opposed to creating the experience based on the funding that you have. There’s a happy median there, finding what’s in the best interest of the student-athletes and their experience, and then figuring out how to pay for it….
That’s going to be an increasing challenge for a time, due to increasing costs. We’re trying to be proactive because we don’t know where things are headed. There are a few things we know -- we know that (several) airlines are now charging for bags -- but how that will impact things long-range, we don’t know. We need to be on the front side of that, both the committee and the NCAA budget and travel staff, (and) take every step that we can to ensure that the student-athlete experience doesn’t suffer, and that we don’t have to make difficult last-minute-type decisions. There’s still a lot unknown, but before we get out of the next biennial budget cycle, which we just approved and will move into next (academic) year, we need to make the decisions for the cycle after that.”
Q: As the Division III membership continues to grow, what kinds of decisions will the championships committee need to make in the near term about access to championships? How soon will the current desire to limit the length and size of championships make it more difficult for teams that don’t qualify for automatic qualification to be selected at large for a championship, and what kinds of issues along those lines do you anticipate having to deal with?
A: Obviously, continuing growth in Division III is a topic of conversation. The extent to which it’s a concern is relative to where it appears on your radar. The exercise we went through during the last year, with the (membership issues) working group and ultimately the survey (completed last spring), showed things that we have to pay attention to.
I think the survey demonstrated to this committee that championships remain important, but also that the membership as a whole generally feels very good about parameters that we have in place for championships. Those include the current access ratio, the (maximum) field of 64, the limit of three weeks on championships and so on….
The next step is to look at where, realistically, the crunch will come. We know it’s in women’s basketball, women’s soccer and potentially softball. Having been in athletics for 25 years, there’s some irony in that. We’ve worked so hard to build women’s programs, and now here it’s going to be women’s teams that will be the first to face the full fields. There is a good side to that; it says something about what we’ve done to build those programs. But on the other hand, there’s an irony that those will be the first fields (to reach the 64-team cap).
I’m not sure, at this point in time, that we have much of a charge from the membership to change what we’re doing. So we’ll look at what that does to the (access) ratio. The survey told us that the membership is okay with changing the ratio (as a way of responding to growth). I think it’s incumbent upon this committee to be able to educate the membership, and certainly the sport committees, on how much that ratio will change. It’s really easy to say that, next year, women’s basketball likely maxes out, and that soccer and softball may do so three years down the road -- the magic number is 416 (teams) when you’re at 64. But what’s the next magic number that pushes you to 65? Is that 420 or 430 or 440? And what does that really mean?
Is there a team that potentially will be left home (as a result)? Yes, but as we’ve heard in our conversations, there already are teams that are being left out that may be deserving of going…. I think the membership has looked at the numbers enough to understand it may mean one less Pool C team, or maybe one less Pool B -- it’s just a matter of how it all works out, how those numbers fit.
I think it will be a fairly significant time down the road before we’re having regrets that we’re at 64, as opposed to having 68 or 70, or having a (play-in) bracket, or what have you. If that next magic number is 428 -- if it takes 12 more teams to get to 65 -- then it’s 48 more to get to 68, right? How realistic is it to think that we’re going to have 48 new women’s basketball programs in the next 10 to 12 years? We don’t know.
I think probably the bigger question over the course of the next 10 years is going to be, with an increase in AQs, how might that impact the Pool B’s and the Pool C’s? When you have situations, as you currently have in golf, where you’re already down to only two Pool C’s? That may be the greater issue for us to address as a committee, and for the membership to address. I’m not sure how you’d adjust the AQ process. In the scope of things, that’s still a relatively new process -- I think we’re probably about six or seven years into it, maybe eight years at the most on the team side, and we’re only two years into it on the individual/team sports.
Q: There were a couple of discussions during the meeting that -- to summarize -- indicated the committee’s desire to stand up for the integrity of the championships selection process. There was discussion of extending the possibility of a misconduct finding for over-the-top criticism of the selection process, as well as a discussion of whether to provide coaches more of an opportunity to review the numbers that are being used in making selections. What do you want the membership to know and understand about the integrity of the selection process -- about its checks and balances and the effort to ensure a fair process?
A: The process is in fact open. I’ve never known an NCAA staff liaison, a director of championships or a sport committee chair or regional chair or sport committee member to not take the time to answer questions folks may have about the process, how it works, and why Team A was selected and Team B wasn’t. In that sense, it’s really an open process.
I think it’s important also to understand -- and it’s unfortunate that more people don’t realize this -- the time and effort that goes in to making those selections, and the difficulty of making them.
From a logistical standpoint, there’s a myth that the whole soccer committee or the basketball committee is in a room and all the names are on a board. So many folks get their impression of how things work from Division I basketball -- March Madness, if you will -- and understandably so because that’s what’s out there. They have this idea that folks are in the same room, and they’re not. These people are at their desks, but they do all have the same information in front of them and they all can see it on their computer. The chair usually is here in Indianapolis and the committee liaisons are here, but they may be spread throughout the building -- there may be four championships’ selections going on at the same time.
(A mock championship selection exercise) our committee went through (last spring) was a significant eye-opener for me and I think for anyone who hasn’t been on a sport committee, which is about a 50-50 mix on this committee right now. It’s certainly not a prerequisite to have served on a sport committee, but it’s helpful in many of the conversations that we have.
It’s important that people understand the time that goes into it, and that it’s not all done just that night -- it’s done over the course of the entire season. (Sport committee members) meet weekly, and they put scenarios on the table, and there are no easy decisions. It’s just like coaches who make decisions selecting their team. The first third are easy -- cut and dried. The middle third usually aren’t too bad, and maybe about half of that last third are okay. But when you get down to those last three, four, five, six, seven spots -- depending on the sport -- those become extremely difficult decisions. That’s the analogy I’ve always used with our coaches when I’ve had to explain. The one difference is, the NCAA must hold at a hard number. As a director of athletics, I can tell a coach, ideally you should keep 14 (team members), but if you want to keep 15 -- if you’re convinced keeping that extra one or two is better for the team and better for that young person and it’s not going to have a negative impact, and they understand they may never see the field or court in competition -- then I’ll let you do that. We can’t do that in championships. We have a number (of participants) that we have to hold tight to, so when you get to those last couple of decisions, it’s difficult.
The committees don’t take that lightly. They don’t sleep well, when all is said and done, because they know there are young people who have missed out on that championship experience. But ultimately, they have to make the decision.
Q: The championships committee deals with a variety of issues, and those vary from meeting to meeting. What are the overreaching principles that guide the committee’s decisions? What’s important in Division III championships?
A: It’s the student-athlete experience. When you look at the Division III philosophy, we try to provide an experience on all of our campuses for student-athletes -- and not just on the field or on the court, but also in the classroom and through campus involvement. We expect them to be champions in whatever they do. So it comes down to that.
Our society is a competitive society. These young people grow up competing from a very young age, and there’s nothing the matter with wanting to be a champion -- wanting to be first. I don’t think that’s anything we could control or change. But as a committee, it’s important that we provide a good, positive experience, and I think that’s one of our overriding principles.
The second overriding principle that we spend a lot of time with is equity. And sometimes, it’s not a question of whether it’s equitable, but whether it’s fair. There’s a difference between those two things. When working with similar sports like men’s and women’s basketball or soccer, it’s easier to be both equitable and fair at the same time. When it comes to baseball and softball, or maybe men’s lacrosse and women’s lacrosse, equity and fairness may not be the same thing. Those are principles that sometimes work hand in hand, and sometimes we have to have conversations and make some decisions.
The third one would be that we have our eyes and ears open and that we pay attention to everybody’s experience (with championships) -- our 430-plus members -- and that we understand and appreciate the uniqueness of each. Not everything we decide is going to work for everybody. But have we had the conversation? Have we done due diligence?
That’s why it’s important that the makeup of the committee, and all of our committees, includes folks from multiple geographic regions...if you don’t have that, how do you understand others’ experiences? For me, this has been a good experience, because there are not only the different geographical perspectives, but the perspective of conference commissioners and athletics directors and independents. We all have our unique challenges.
So those are the three overriding principles -- the student-athlete experience, the fair/equity piece, and that we pay attention to the diversity that we have celebrated and that we’ve had so much conversation about during the restructuring discussion. That diversity is what makes us what we are and it makes for a good experience -- so are we paying attention to that diversity in this room?
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