BELTON, Texas- On Monday, D3hoops.com came out with two articles. The website confirmed what many D3 college basketball coaches and fans alike had been expecting, yet not wanting to hear. There are not enough D3 college basketball teams, on either the men’s or women’s side, currently playing to meet the required number of teams needed for the NCAA to hold the NCAA Tournament in March.
According to one article from the website, 51 percent of men’s teams and 50.3 percent of women’s teams are currently playing. Prior to the season tipping off in November, the NCAA made it clear that at least 60 percent of the nation’s programs needed to be competing in order for the NCAA Tournament to be contested.
Interestingly, the majority of D3 is made up of east-coast schools and conferences, many of which opted out of the season altogether, citing Covid-19 concerns. As of Tuesday, the CUNYAC, MASCAC and SUNYAC were the three conferences that made the decision to cancel the season and bar any of the teams within the conference from creating a schedule on its own. Additionally, 85 men’s programs and 93 women’s programs have opted out on their own, bringing the numbers down quite a bit.
This has established who isn’t playing, but what about the teams that are playing, such as UMHB and its ASC conference members? For now, all the Crusaders can do is simply keep their fingers, crossed, progress with the season, and pray that somehow, there will be a chance to dance in March.
“I’m optimistic, because that’s just what we do,” said UMHB head men’s basketball coach Clif Carroll. “We have to prepare for what’s on the schedule right now, and right now, we’re having the tournament, so we’re preparing for it. I’m not going to worry about things that are outside my control. I can’t control what the NCAA decides to do. Now I hope and I pray we have the tournament, because these kids work their tails off everyday and they’ve been working their tails off for years for a chance to play in the NCAA tournament. I hope that the NCAA will look at that, at the financials and find a way to make it happen.”
“We’re just going to have to keep approaching like we’ve been approaching,” said UMHB head women’s basketball coach Mark Morefield. “One game at a time, hour-by-hour. That’s the approach we have to take and in my opinion the best approach to keep us somewhat sane.”
It is the unpredictability that challenges these teams and coaches day in and day out. Both the UMHB men and women face the harsh possibility of completing a near-perfect season, and the tournament getting canceled. They head into each game week knowing that at any point in time, the game could be called off, and not rescheduled.
“I guess it’s a catch-22,” said Morefield. “Each of these girls gets their year back. That’s the postive. You don’t know where seniors are going to go. Now it does benefit you if you have a senior that has to be in school one more year. I think it benefits everybody else because it does take about 5 years to graduate with a degree. What stinks is that this is life. It’s the unpredictabilility. I think that’s where if you go back to last year, it stunk. I thought we had a Final Four run in us [before the tournament was canceled]. But if you get past all that, at least you knew what was predictable. Now, you don’t know. Everything is different hour by hour.”
But if the tournament gets canceled. Then what? Unlike certain programs, which have hinted at the fact of possibility saving the money and shutting down the program with no NCAA title hopes on the table, both UMHB head coaches confirmed that the Cru will indeed play out the remainder of the season.
However, it will not stop there for the Cru. In the event of a tournament cancellation, both coaches agreed on the fact that they would likely try to set up a mini-regional-type tournament, whether that be in Belton or somewhere else. The bottom line? As Carroll put it, it doesn’t matter whether they are playing for an NCAA title for “the tiddlywinks championship”. They want compete.
“Obviously, we’d like to compete for a national title, but I think if you can provide opportunities for these athletes to play, I think that’s the important thing,” said Morefield. “Here’s the reason why. My philosphy is this. Let’s say everything shuts down, just from an athletics standpoint, on a D3 side of things, come early February. Here’s what I do know. These kids are going through a lot. There’s a lot of changes. With that being said, I think to provide them with some type of normalcy, however they can, I think is a benefit to them.
“If you can provide some type of tournament, an opportunity to play, I would be all for it, regardless of if it’s a national title or not,” continued Morefield. “There’s no harm in playing, it’s just going to make you better. I think it’d be something great, even here. If something were to come to an abrupt end, I would probably reach out to a Trinity (TX), a UT Dallas, because I know they want to play. Let’s have a double-elimination type tournament.
“We could be playing for a tiddlywinks championship and we’re going to try to win it,” said Carroll with a laugh. “That’s our mentality. One thing we’ve done on the men’s side, is we’ve saved three games. You look at our schedule, we only have 22 games. That way, if they do cancel the tournament, we do have some leeway. So we can take other teams that save games and we can play a postseason tournament. There’s kind of a coalition of us [Texas schools]. Even though there may not be an NCAA Tournament, there’s going to be a chance for our guys to play in the postseason. It may not be traditionally what it looks like, but it’ll be something.”
What critics might call taking unnecessary risks, the vast majority would side with the coaches. The kids deserve games. Especially those seniors Morefield spoke of. At the D3 level, where there are no scholarships and student-athletes are truly students before athletes, having an extra year may not matter. For many players, this will be their final collegiate season, whether the tournament is played or not.
On the men’s side, Aedan Welch, the lone senior, will not return for another season, as he begins medical school. On the women’s side, Morefield has three seniors in Taylor Kollmorgen, Madison McCoy, and Brooke Elliot. Kollmorgen is a fifth-year senior, but this season could perhaps be the final one for any of those three.
“We owe it to Aedan,” said Carroll. “Everybody else will be back next year but we owe it to him to have the best senior year that he can. We take it seriously and we’re going to do what is best for the kids.”
When will we know where the NCAA stands? The simple answer is we truly don’t know. Often, the NCAA will make its stance clear days prior to an official decision. Morefield noted Tuesday that he expects to know the fate of the tournament within the next two weeks, which would put us in early February with close to a month left in the season.
“I would probably say in the next two weeks,” said Morefield. “Based on my understanding last week, they’re going round, and seeing who’s in, who’s out, and getting a check of the landscape so to speak before they move on. The threshold has always been 60 percent. Things can change, but with the threshold at 50 percent, I think there’s going to have to be some modifications if they want to play.”