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By Brian Burnsed
The Division III Championships Committee discussed the importance of adopting a more prudent approach to bracket expansion moving forward. In recent years, sport committees focused on maintaining the 1:6.5 for team sport brackets with little discussion of the budgetary or administrative ramifications. During the Sept. 9-10 meeting in Indianapolis, the Championships Committee said that changes must be made to the process, and in the future, the sport committees will need to carefully weigh the financial implications of bracket expansion along with several other factors.
“As the sports continue to grow and sport committees are asking for expanded brackets, we’re trying to be fiscally responsible knowing what we know about the recent history and future of the budget,” said Division III Championships Committee chair and Fitchburg State athletics director Sue Lauder. “I’m not sure if we’ve thought about the budget as much in the past as we should.”
This year, three Division III sport committees – men’s volleyball, men’s lacrosse and women’s lacrosse – all requested additional bids be added to their respective championships effective in 2013-14, primarily driven by a desire to fully meet the 1:6.5 target access ratio. The Championships Committee agreed that men’s volleyball should expand its field from nine teams to 10. Men’s lacrosse asked for an expansion from 29 to 31 teams due to the addition of an automatic qualifier and overall growth in sport sponsorship. The Committee, however, recommended that the championship field change only by one berth to 30 to maintain an even numbered bracket – a bracketing principle historically applied by the committee because of administrative and financial benefits.
The Women’s Lacrosse Committee requested a jump from 32 teams to 37; however, the Championships Committee recommended a field of 36. Again, committee members wanted an even number of teams to compete and weighed the financial impact – nearly $100,000 of unbudgeted dollars – of adding five teams to the championship. While the addition of four teams would tack on significant cost, the committee wanted to continue to support the rapid growth of women’s lacrosse; within the next two years, committee members estimate that at least three of the four new spots will go to automatic qualifiers thanks to the sport’s rapid expansion.
To offset the costs of adding one men’s lacrosse team, four women’s lacrosse teams and one men’s volleyball team to championship events, the Committee eliminated funding for several officiating enhancements. That, combined with savings from other areas, chopped the cost of the recommended expansion from six figures to roughly $50,000. Moving forward, the Committee will engage in this sort of budgetary give-and-take and will require sport committees to do the same.
The Committee’s prudence was spurred by several factors. Over the last two fiscal years, Division III championships have amassed a total operating deficit of more than $1.3 million. Projections anticipate continued challenges, especially related to travel costs. While Championship fields are growing, the annual growth in available funding is no longer keeping pace. The amount CBS and Turner pay for the rights to the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship – the primary NCAA and Division III source of revenue – grows by approximately 3 percent every year. Previously, funding grew by 7 percent annually, which provided wiggle room for more spending.
Also, over time, Division III built a significant cash reserve. While in recent years, Division III budgets were adjusted in an effort to spend down that growing surplus, the division’s Strategic Planning and Finance Committee has concluded that reductions in championships and non-championships funding will be necessary, no later than the start of the 2015 budget cycle, to maintain a meaningful reserve. In that light, the Championships Committee determined that the recommendations from the individual sports committees for increased spending, especially bracket enhancement to create additional at-large berths, needed additional review. Over the long term, the Committee plans to sharpen its focus on several other factors when mulling over bracket expansions. In addition to budget concerns, the Committee will also re-evaluate the existing access ratio of 1:6.5 for team sports; ensure that championship brackets have an even number of teams for administrative and financial reasons, and consider a revised balance between automatic qualifying and at-large teams, giving greatest emphasis to AQ.
“There are a lot of parameters to try to fit into a box, and that’s going to be difficult,” Lauder said.