Moving from 3 to 1

When George Fox head coach Scott Rueck accepted the top post at his alma mater Oregon State, he became the second coach this offseason to make the jump directly from Division III to Division I head coach. Vermont selected Lori Gear McBride of Colby to be its next women’s basketball coach in May.

The contemporary standard bearer for making that jump successfully is UW-Madison coach Bo Ryan. Ryan won four national titles with UW-Platteville and then moved to UW-Milwaukee before taking over the Badgers. At a lower profile Tony Shaver has done a nice job developing the William & Mary program since leaving Hampden-Sydney. Glenn Miller went from Conn College to Brown after leading the Camels to the Division III national semifinals. Miller did well at Brown, winning more games in his first six years there any previous Bears coach. Then he moved to Penn where he got fired after a 0-7 start to last season.

Here’s how some others have fared recently:

* Division I Bucknell likes them some D3 coaches. That’s understandable since Pat Flannery, who took over the Bison program in 1994, won 234 games there. Flannery arrived in Lewisburg after winning the national championship with Lebanon Valley that same year. So when Flannery retired in April 2008, Bucknell picked another Division III coach as his successor, Williams Dave Paulsen. Paulsen hasn’t taken the Bison to the same heights yet. They went 7-23 in Paulsen’s second season and 14-17 in the second.

* Speaking of the Patriot League, Stefanie Pemper left Bowdoin after a long, successful run in Maine for slightly warmer climes in 2008 when she became the head coach at Navy. The Mids have turned things around nicely under her, from 7-23 pre-Pemper in 2007-2008 to 16-15 post-Pemper in 2008-2009. Navy sustained that momentum last season by going 17-14.

* Around the same time as Paulsen’s and Pemper’s moves, Don Friday made the jump from Lycoming to St. Francis (Pa.). He took over a Red Flash program that had won just 18 games in three seasons. St. Francis kept slogging at that pace with a six win campaign in 2008-2009 but nearly doubled the win total last season by going 11-19.

This is far too small a sample to make any generalizations but it does highlight a couple things.

First, has any Division III coach made as big a jump as Rueck? Not to denigrate the Ivy League, Patriot League, American East or NEC, but they aren’t on the same level athletically as the Pac 12, um 10, er whatever. To give you a sense of scale how big the jump is, George Fox spent $81,909 during its undefeated championship run in 2008-2009 according to Federal government data. Oregon State spent five times as much – $419,465 – in a season where the Beavers went 20-12.

How will Rueck’s style translate at that level? Apparently he had the same question before taking the job. According to The Oregonian, Rueck called Oregon State football coach Mike Riley who also coached in the NWC at Linfield. Riley’s words encouraged Rueck to make the jump. An OSU assistant baseball coach who is also a former George Fox coach says, “”If you can coach at D-III you can coach anywhere.”

What happens to the teams these coaches leave behind? It’s a mixed bag. The Williams men reached last year’s national championship game post-Paulsen. The Bowdoin women aren’t as dominant as they used to be, but that may have more to do with GP Gromacki’s arrival at Amherst than Pemper’s departure. UW-Platteville and Hampden-Sydney aren’t as successful as they were under Ryan and Shaver, but they are competitive in really tough leagues. And Conn College has not fared well in the NESCAC since Miller left.

As for George Fox, having a roster with young talent, including freshman phenom Hannah Munger, certainly won’t hurt. Nor will it hurt that Puget Sound, the Bruins closest rival, will be going through a similar process after head coach Suzy Barcomb left for Division II. That’s the recipe for sustaining the success that Rueck established at George Fox over the short term. Choosing the right head coach to replace Rueck will go a long way toward sustaining it over the long term.

The case for Centenary (La.) and D-III

The Shreveport Times broke a story on Wednesday that Centenary College, in Shreveport, La., had an exploratory meeting with the presidents of the American Southwest Conference as part of what seems to be “due diligence” concerning its ongoing intercollegiate athletics program.

The other Division III conference is reported to be the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference, whose presidents are scheduled to meet in the next 1-2 weeks. The report also said that two other D-1 conferences were being evaluated.

Thursday’s Shreveport Times reported on a news conference held by men’s basketball coach Greg Gary who completed his first year as head coach. Gary said that he thought D-I was the place for Centenary.

Centenary College, a private liberal arts college of 854 undergrads, and its athletic community are at a crossroads.

Centenary College has been a member of the Summit League, a non-football D-1 conference formerly known as the Mid-Continent Conference, since 2003. The Summit League spans nine states with its 10 full members, from Oakland College in Rochester, Mich., to Southern Utah in Cedar City, Utah. All other members are state schools except Oral Roberts University, in Tulsa. Four Summit League members play FCS football.

Travel from Shreveport to the rest of the league requires one and two layovers in major hubs. Air travel out of Shreveport goes to Memphis, DFW, Houston Intercontinental and Atlanta. There is no direct flight to Chicago from Shreveport, a feature that Oral Roberts in Tulsa enjoys. Fellow Summit league member Oral Roberts is still 347 miles away from Shreveport.

Centenary was recently placed on a postseason ban in men’s basketball for poor Academic Progress Rates (APR). The Centenary baseball program was also under scrutiny for APR issues in 2008-09.

The economic downturn is said to have decreased earnings from Centenary endowments by $1.5 million. The National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) 2008 report gave Centenary’s endowment at $118 million as of June 30, 2008. Centenary reported that the endowment was down 20% this year. The 2008 endowment was less than nearby D-III schools Austin, Southwestern and Trinity (Texas).

Centenary currently awards scholarships in men’s and women’s basketball, golf, soccer, swimming and tennis, baseball, softball and women’s gymnastics and volleyball. Full D-I funding for those varsity sports would entail 107.9 men’s scholarships and 112 scholarships for women, roughly 25% of the undergraduate student body. At current tuition rates of $22,000 per year, that is $4.8 million for 219.9 scholarships, a sum greater than the annual yield of the entire endowment at a prudent 4% rate of draw.

The challenge to find another D-I conference in the south is problematic. The Southland Conference is comprised of D-I (FCS for football) schools from Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas. All 12 members are public schools. Eight currently play football. Two more have announced the addition/restoration of football, and one is studying restoring football. The announced fundraising efforts to accomplish this have been in the tens of millions of dollars.

The Sun Belt Conference is a BCS-football conference of 13 schools over eight states including Louisiana. Louisiana Tech is in the Western Athletic Conference. The other, better known D-I options are not plausible.

Centenary has not mentioned the option of a non-football D-II conference, which would be the Heartland Conference, which extends the 1050 miles from Laredo, Texas to Jefferson City, Missouri.

So, Centenary has two options in Division III.

The American Southwest Conference is a 15-member conference in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi that is divided into two divisions, East and West. The eight-member West Division is west and south of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Centenary is right in the middle of the seven-member East Division. Six of the seven ASC-East members are within a three-hour bus ride on the interstate from Shreveport. Being the eighth member would balance the “travel partner” schedule used by the ASC.

The ASC sponsors every varsity sport that Centenary offers except swimming and women’s gymnastics. Several ASC members have varsity or club swimming programs. men’s club lacrosse, which Centenary has, is being explored by a few ASC schools. Centenary swimming might be the catalyst for the ASC to add the sport. Women’s gymnastics might be the only casualty in a move to D-III. The membership of the ASC has seen four members add football in the last decade, which would also be an option for Centenary.

The case that the ASC makes is almost complete accommodation for Centenary’s sports, geographic proximity, and a minimum of missed class time. The ASC offered charter membership to Centenary when the conference was formed in 1996. The conference would presumably love to have Centenary.

The Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference is expected to receive the Centenary delegation at its Presidents’ meeting later this month. Although geographically more dispersed than the ASC, the SCAC can host all of Centenary’s sports except varsity gymnastics. The burgeoning interest in men’s lacrosse in the SCAC is also a plus for Centenary’s club team. If Centenary follows the model used by Birmingham-Southern when it announced its move to D-III in 2006, then male sports such as football and lacrosse are integral to the strategy. Centenary’s re-instituting football could become the SCAC’s 10th football program. The current male: female ratio of the student body is 42:58. Adding football might bring that closer to parity. (The SCAC does not sponsor women’s gymnastics either.)

The “fit” as a peer institution is what may give the SCAC its inside track. Centenary is one of 16 schools in the Associated Colleges of the South.

Fellow ACS members in the SCAC include Birmingham-Southern, Centre, Hendrix, Millsaps, Rhodes, Sewanee, Southwestern and Trinity (Texas). (Other D-III schools in the ACS include Spelman and Washington and Lee.)

Centenary would strengthen the western side of the SCAC. The SCAC has maintained that it wants to be a 12-member conference, but Colorado College’s decision to drop football this spring probably took some of the luster of having the Colorado Springs, Colo., school in the league. DePauw, in Greencastle, Ind., is another geographically isolated member of the conference. Since the SCAC uses a travel partner format for scheduling, the departure of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (Terre Haute, Ind.) from the SCAC because of travel constraints and missed class time for its student-athletes has made DePauw’s isolation more pronounced.

Centenary joined the Summit League in 2003. It has won an average of seven games in men’s basketball in the last five seasons. The budget crunch that has hit all college athletic programs seems to be affecting Centenary. B. David Rowe will become the 12th president of Centenary on August 1st. Dr Rowe is a Southwestern grad and has spent time at Emory and LaGrange. He has a solid D-III background. However, the decision may be made by the time that he begins.

The Centenary board has hard decisions to make, but Division III athletics seems to have more plusses than minuses for a school that prides itself in its academic reputation.

Up next: The Field of 4,096 contributed a photo but can take no credit for the hilarious mockery The Onion has made of the NCAA Tournament. Their Onion Sports Network video is below. It previews an NCAA Tournament bracket of 4,096 basketball teams, from D-I to D-III, community colleges to trade schools.

4096 teams

Swarthmore freshman guard Will Scheuing is from a Lou Rabito photo.

As OSN “college basketball analyst” Joe Monticello puts it: “Look out for Eckerd. They’ve got a full roster, and they’re having practices.”

When the matchups scroll by in the video, see if you can spot D-III schools Johns Hopkins, SUNY-Geneseo, Suffolk, Gustavus Adolphus … and the conference rematch in the first round. I suspect that’s probably in a 488-537 game, and you know it’s tough to beat a team three times in one season. Wait, this would be just twice.

Not sure the embed is working here so if not, click on the link.

NCAA Expands March Madness To Include 4,096 Teams