Mar 07, 2023

Whitaker: NCAA should 'care more' about DII student-athlete experience

Posted Mar 07, 2023 7:27 PM
Stock photo by Derek Zimmerman-Guyer.
Stock photo by Derek Zimmerman-Guyer.


St. Joseph Post

The Missouri Western women's basketball team was not selected for the NCAA tournament Sunday, despite a largely successful season.

Missouri Western needed to win at least one game in the MIAA tournament to bolster their NCAA tournament resume, but the Griffons were eliminated in the MIAA tournament quarterfinals against Fort Hays State with a 71-62 loss this past Friday night.

Despite a 24-7 record and finishing 3rd in a stacked MIAA, the Griffons were not selected for the big dance.

Missouri Western was the No. 8 seed in the previous week's Central Region rankings, but the Great American Conference tournament champion, Southern Nazarene, was an automatic bid, knocking the Griffons off the bubble.

Missouri Western coach Candi Whitaker says the NCAA needs to rethink how they fill the Division II bracket, but also rethink how they prioritize the DII student-athlete experience.

"(The MIAA) should have six teams in this year," Whitaker said on the MWSU Coaches' Luncheon Monday. "If we are going to preach student-athlete experience, what in the world are you doing if you're not allowing kids to have the experience of a postseason when they deserve it?"

"So, until the NCAA wants to care more about the Division II experience, and the Division II athlete, you're going to continue to sell these kids short on what their experience should be."

The Griffons had the sixth toughest schedule in the country in Division II women's basketball, according to the Massey Ratings.

Of the six teams Missouri Western lost to this season, all of them won at least 20 games, and five of them are in the NCAA tournament.

The Griffons, who made the Elite Eight last season, had four more regular season wins this year than what they had the year prior. MWSU beat three ranked teams this season, and the 18 conference wins is the most for the Griffon women since the 2015-16 season.

Not to mention an outstanding 11-2 record in true road games.

Missouri Western was one of 11 teams in Division II women's basketball this year that had 20 or more wins, but didn't get an invite to the big dance.

There were also 11 DII women's teams with 10 or more losses this year that earned a bid.

Doesn't make much sense, does it? If this were Division I, Missouri Western is likely a 5-8 seed. And then the Fort Hays State women, with a 20-12 record, is probably an 8-11 seed. The Tigers were also left out this year.

The Division I tournament consists of only four regions, with teams seeded 1-16, allowing for more at-large bids from all across the country. Allowing for those capable and deserving at-large teams to have a shot at the big prize.

Often times in Division I, teams in the Power 6 conferences that qualify for the NCAA tournament can get in with a sub-.500 conference record, and teams from the same conference, often times, are put on opposite sides of the bracket, allowing for the best possible matchups with the best teams, come Final Four time.

Whereas in Division II, on the men's side this season for example, MIAA rivals Central Oklahoma and Northwest Missouri State could meet in the Central Region final at Bearcat Arena, cutting either UCO or Northwest's chances short of even having a shot at an Elite Eight or Final Four appearance.

Northwest is 30-2. UCO is 26-5. Both have been in the top 10 all year. Why are they on the same side of the backet?

The NJCAA and NAIA have managed to run successful, true national tournaments that use a nearly identical format to that of Division I.

The DII tournament being split into eight regions is meant to save money on travel expenses for DII universities that have smaller budgets than their DI counterparts.

Yet, in the Central Region alone, teams like Missouri Southern, Central Missouri, Nebraska-Kearney and Pittsburg State will have to travel up to 11 hours to get to Minnesota-Duluth - the host site of the women's Central Region tournament this year.

"I mean, how much more money could it cost?" Whitaker said, on the idea of changing the DII format. "I know it all comes down to money, but they've got to look at it. I think the NCAA, no question, needs to look at what they're doing. As athletics have evolved, we also need to evolve and do right by student-athletes."

There's always going to be some teams left out or unhappy, regardless of what format or formula you use. The solution, or the overturning of this at the DII level, Whitaker notes, won't be easy.

"It's something we have to be loud about and fight for if we're going to fight for our athletes."

But, with the current rules being what they are, Whitaker recognizes that losing to Pittsburg State at home in the regular season finale and then going 0-1 in the conference tournament cost them in the end.

"Someone had to get left out and it was us," she said. "It's unfortunate, but we look at what we can control, and my goodness we should have won one more game. We had a rebound (against Pittsburg State) to probably secure that, and we didn't do that. So, we do take responsibility."

Despite not being selected for the tournament, Missouri Western has many reasons to be optimistic for the future.

The Griffons, who have won 21 or more games in three of the last four seasons, are set to return 15 of the 16 players on this year's roster.

Whitaker is proud of her team, regardless of what the selection committee decided.

"I am so proud of our players and how hard they've worked and the seasons they've put together," Whitaker said. "We have a lot of talent coming back, and we'll have meetings in the next week and make sure we're on the same page, and excited for what we have returning."

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