Friday, March 1, 2013

Basketball: When Is Traveling a Violation? When a Top Team Doesn't Host Early-Round NCAA Games

It is an all too familiar story in the Division III NCAA championships. A conference and tournament champion from Ohio with an outstanding record and high rating has to travel hundreds of miles to play one of the NCAA’s fair-haired children in an early round on its home court.

It has happened again this year. Ohio Northern’s women’s basketball team, rated No. 3 in the nation and loser of a single game all season, powering its way through the Ohio Athletic Conference – a league strong enough to generate championship teams and, this season, an at-large qualifier in Otterbein – must travel 270 miles to No. 2 Hope (Mich.) for its first-round game against Hanover (Ind.) tonight. A win means a likely second-round game Saturday against Hope on its home floor, assuming the host defeats Wheaton (Ill.).

For years now, high-achieving Ohio colleges have had to make long journeys in this tournament so that certain favorites like Hope and Washington (Mo.) can get the home court advantage. If the decision is about money, well, since the NCAA is involved, that’s hardly a surprise. If the integrity of the tournament is damaged, so what?

Elsewhere in the women’s tournament, at-large qualifier Otterbein faces Marysville (Tenn.) in its first round game, played on DePauw’s home floor at Greencastle, Ind. – a shorter trip (236 miles) than its conference champion faces. The winner of that game plays the winner of the DePauw-LaRoche (Pa.) game on Saturday.

The men’s Division III tournament operates on a different calendar, as there is no final four but a final eight playoff incorporating quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals on a neutral site in Atlanta. The first round is the only game played this weekend, and thus there are more hosting opportunities. On Saturday, North Coast Athletic Conference tournament champion Ohio Wesleyan hosts St. Vincent (Pa.), while regular season champion Wooster hosts Penn State-Behrend. The only traveling school this weekend is Ohio Athletic Conference tournament champion Marietta, which travels to Dickinson (Pa.), a 307-mile jaunt.

Only one AICUO member qualified in NAIA Division II basketball. Lourdes’s men’s team will play Indiana Wesleyan on the morning of March 7. Lourdes wins the long-distance travel award at 718 miles, as all NAIA tourney games take place, as they have for many years, at the College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Mo. In case you were wondering, Ozarks qualified in that tournament as the team with the most losses, 12.