Road to NCAA Championships changes for Division III wrestlers
By K.J. Pilcher, Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS - Wrestlers will be taking a different route to Cedar Rapids in March.
And, it isn't due to the countless areas of construction throughout the city that will host the 2013 NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships.
The NCAA Division III Wrestling Committee approved a change to national tournament qualifying in April and Monday announced the six regional sites for the new format. The eight Iowa Conference schools, Knox (Ill.), Cornell and Augustana (Ill.) will compete in the Central regional hosted by Loras College at Five Flags Center in Dubuque on Mar. 2.
Many saw changes coming over the horizon.
"I guess we knew for a couple years they were going this route," Coe coach John Oostendorp said. "Now, you need to embrace it."
The new system has a huge impact on the IIAC, which was one of seven conference tournaments and two regionals used as a national qualifier, especially when it relates to NCAA qualifiers. In past years, conferences were allotted NCAA berths based on All-American performances of previous years. The IIAC has had 32-35 in recent seasons, and will lose qualifiers while adding teams to its qualifying meet. The top three regional placewinners advance from each weight.
"Before it was all based on power," said Jim Miller, coach of the two-time defending NCAA Division III champion Wartburg Knights. "How you did at the national tournament determined how many you got. If you did well you got rewarded. This is a different scenario."
The NCAA field will grow from 170 to 180 qualifiers with each bracket having 18 wrestlers. The new format will alleviate the politics of wildcard selections since qualifier berths are assigned to specific regional finishes. Oostendorp said he likes the idea of wrestlers deciding their own fate.
"I've been privy to some of those wildcard meetings," said Oostendorp, whose 165-pounder Nick LeClere turned a fifth-place IIAC finish into NCAA runner-up honors thanks to a wildcard berth. "It's helped us before and hurt us before. I guess I like the fact that knowing going in what you have to do to qualify for the national tournament. You really put it in your own hands."
It also cures unbalanced national tournament brackets. Luther coach Dave Mitchell recalled a national tournament with only 13 competitors at a weight, allowing a wrestler to reach the podium with a 1-2 mark.
"It seems more equitable that way," Mitchell said of the new qualifying. "This idea of an All-American winning only one match won't happen."
The other concern is watering down the NCAA field. The Iowa Conference has annually produced some of the top wrestlers from the division's top teams. Now they have less spots that are going to other programs from other regions.
"We hope we're not hurting the quality of the tournament," Mitchell said. "I'm hopeful we're not but when you see four or five teams in the Iowa Conference ranked in the top 10 to 15 every year, you're worried you're losing some of the best wrestlers."
NCAA Division II has competed in regional qualifiers for years now. Miller, and others, have seen the trend growing. He said it may be universal in the NCAA in the near future.
"The regionalization is something the NCAA has been going toward more," Miller said. "You're probably going to see it in Division I soon."
Two regional tournaments will be hosted in bordering states. The Midwest regional will be hosted by Elmhurst (Ill.) College. Augsburg will host the West Regional at Si Melby Hall in Minneapolis, Minn. The College of New Jersey, Ohio Northern University and WPI will also host regional tournaments.
The NCAA Division III Championships will be held at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena on March 15-16.
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