The NAIA has been two divisions in basketball since 1992. That’s the only sport to be split across the entire field of athletics sponsored by the organization.
How will this affect a Division II team like Milligan College?
The Buffaloes men’s team made the national tournament this year by way of finishing second in the regular season to Union. They were bounced out in the first round by Cornerstone.
During a long string of success, the Buffs have been under the watchful eyes of two coaches — first Tony Wallingford (now coaching women’s golf) and then Bill Robinson. The men’s team has made the tournament five times, but never got there when the NAIA consisted of one division.
The women’s team last made the national tourney in 2016-17 and made six other appearances prior to that. This includes four straight appearances from the 1996-97 season to the 1999-2000 season.
Under the direction of Rich Aubrey, the Lady Buffs have seen great success since the split. They too, however, never made the nationals prior to ’92.
Like the NCAA, basketball is one of the driving forces behind revenue. However, the NAIA does not pay for postseason travel, which makes it hard for fans to travel with team and for teams to have adequate travel times to sometimes far-away places.
When the men’s team played in the first round of the tournament earlier this year, it had to travel all the way to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
When the split happened, the Appalachian Athletic Conference declared it would play Division II — rendering that all conference teams (present and future) do the same.
“The financial costs of being Division I was increasing since their pool of teams was getting smaller,” Milligan athletic director Mark Fox said. “They were looking for some relief. Practically speaking, some of the Division II schools were spending the same amount as Division I schools for everything else other than scholarships. There needed to be a middle ground.”
With the combination of the divisions, the NAIA basketball limit on scholarships across the board will be eight. Milligan had six as a Division II school.
There will also be an expansion in the national tournament from 32 teams to 64, doubling the size of the field. The selection process is still undetermined at this time.
Also, there is still discussion of what point in the bracket do all the teams will come together at one site? The leading candidates are for a 32-team, one-site tournament or a 16-team, one-site tournament.
The combining of divisions will not happen until 2021. This allows all remaining Division I schools to make the necessary changes over the allotted amount of time and for conferences like the AAC to setup scholarship limits.
“I think the chances of teams getting into the tournament will be more so determined at the conference level,” Fox said. “There could be a reshuffling of conferences. We have a lot of schools right now that are affiliated with Division I basketball that drive right by a Division II school and vice versa. That’s really the only difference in the NAIA right now.”
Fox said one of the other driving forces that could cause some reshuffling in the conference is football. The AAC has reached the critical number of football schools with either full-member schools or affiliate schools.
The AAC currently has 14 full-member schools and four affiliate schools. There is also a new school, Columbia International University, that will become an affiliate in two years,
Yes, the landscape of NAIA basketball is getting ready to change drastically and the Buffs will look to make their mark within the new format.