NOTE: This is the eighth and final article in a series that serves as a primer for Azusa Pacific University students and fans on their new homes in Division II of the NCAA.
Previous articles in the series:
- PacWest — About the Conference
- Southern California schools
- Hawai’i schools
- Northern California schools
- Southwestern schools
- GNAC — About the Conference
- Football members
So, that’s a look at the conferences the Cougars will call home, but what about Division II itself? Well, Division II is between Division I and Division III in the NCAA’s hierarchy, which actually says quite a bit. There are athletic scholarships, which Division III does not allow, but those scholarships are much fewer in number than at the Division I level. In football, for example, a non-sanctioned FBS member has 65 full scholarships to offer to members of their team. A Division II football program is allowed to offer a maximum of 36. By comparison, when at the NAIA level, the Cougars were allowed a maximum of 12 scholarships, which they split up to provide at least some support to approximately 50 members of the roster. Also, while exposure through national media is still a rare occurence, it is not limited to the championship game only. CBS Sports Network has a contract that allows for six regular season Division II games to be broadcast nationally on cable, as well as the occasional basketball game, and the national championships are televised on mainstream networks (ESPN for football, CBS for men’s basketball).
The NCAA has written quite the book when it comes to recruiting hurdles, and part of the transition process was installing a full-time compliance officer who will have to be thoroughly knowledgeable about these rules as well as making sure that every athlete is on track to graduate, whether that means verifying grades, ensuring the student is enrolled in the correct classes for their major, and getting the students to declare said major by the end of their sophomore year. It also means a set schedule for recruitment, with national signing days now being a regular fixture on the Cougar athletic calendar.
As far as individual sports, there are a couple rule changes from the NAIA to the NCAA. In baseball, the “courtesy runner”–a pinch runner for the pitcher or catcher when they reach base–is now a thing of the past, and for the tennis teams, the matches are scored out of 7 instead of 9, with the three doubles matches now collectively counting as a single point for whichever school wins two of them.
The biggest change, however, will be in playoff qualification. On the plus side, the NCAA reimburses schools for travel costs associated with their national championships (thank you March Madness for footing the bill). The downside is that to keep those travel costs to a minimum, all playoffs in Division II are done regionally. This means that the national polls we love to keep track of and argue about are virtually meaningless, and instead the computated regional rankings will be king. Division II is divided into eight geographical regions (four for football), and each region has its own six to eight team playoff, with the winner of each region advancing to the national finals. Azusa Pacific is now a member of the West region, which includes the Pacific West, Great Northwest and California Collegiate Athletic Conferences (the CCAA, which I have not covered in detail, is a 12-team league comprised entirely of California public schools, mostly from the CSU system). For football, the West region is combined with the Central region to form Super Region 3 (of 4), and the top six in the regional rankings at the end of the season advance to the playoffs. One other caveat: while D2 schools routinely play schools from the NAIA or Division I, only wins against Division II schools count in determining the regional rankings. So that football opener against FCS UC-Davis one month from tonight? Yeah, not helpful at all. But it’s a great way to be baptized by fire, eh?