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NAIA Morningside vs. Rio Grande Basketball

Rio Grande's Alexis Payne, left, defends Morningside's Sydney Hupp during first-round action of the 2018 NAIA Division II Women's Basketball Championship at the Tyson Events Center.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal file

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The NAIA Council of Presidents officially voted Monday to approve moving basketball from a two-division sport to one for both men and women beginning with the 2020-21 season.

"It is time to move forward and make the most out of NAIA basketball that we can," GPAC Commissioner Corey Westra said. "It is one of the highest exposure sports we have in the NAIA with the longstanding history it has. Today we know the new direction and we work together to be the best we can be."

Basketball was the last NAIA sport that consisted of two divisions. The only other decision that was made Monday was to set the scholarship limit at eight for the single division. Division I schools currently have a scholarship maximum of 11 while Division II is at six.

The move to one division did not come as a shock as it has been in discussion for years. The NAIA is looking to keep a balance between the number of teams in each division and how many reach postseason play.

There are still questions to be answered like how big and where the national tournaments will be held. That is of particular interest to Sioux City, which has hosted the women's Division II tournament for 21 straight years.

“They actually asked us about our interest quite a few months ago knowing more than likely that this is the way it was going to go,” said Erika Newton, general manager of the Tyson Events Center. “We expressed our interest and would be very aggressive in pursuing the one-division tournament so that it works for everybody. I don’t want to speak for them but they have always been very pleased with tournaments in our city, and we have a long partnership with the NAIA that goes back decades and have already talked about potential dates for the tournament."

There have been talks of a national tournament as big as 64 teams and as small as 16. Regardless of how many teams make it to the final site, Newton said there would be interest from Sioux City to host.

“We have hosted the volleyball tournament for a number of years and that has a lower number of teams, and we hosted softball for two years and that had eight,” she said. “It is still a great tournament for the city and the local businesses as far as its economic impact.”

The next step to answering site and format questions will come this summer at the National Administrative Council meeting in Washington, D.C.

Most GPAC coaches and athletic directors would like to see the national tournament remain at its current configuration.

“The biggest thing from our standpoint is just keeping a 32-team national tournament at the final site,” Morningside men’s basketball coach Jim Sykes said. “I think that is so special for the players involved and the fans.”

The Division II GPAC, especially on the women’s side, has enjoyed a lot of success at the national tournament, winning 13 national titles since 2001. That includes this year when Dakota Wesleyan defeated Concordia in an all-GPAC final. Now with the increased number of schools and the scholarship increase from the Division II perspective, can that continue?

“Every institution is going to set their own rules for limits and because it is not reality that has not been discussed,” Sykes said. “You look at Graceland down in Lamoni that won the Division I tournament and had a spectacular season, Briar Cliff goes and beats them on their floor first game of the year.

“I don’t know if there is that big of a difference from NAIA II to I, but the very top programs in NAIA Division I will probably remain the top programs overall in one division.”

Brair Cliff women’s basketball coach Mike Power doesn’t see the move impacting his or the GPAC’s recruiting footprint.

“I don’t think it is going to nor do I think we have the ability to change what we are,” he said. “We are all having success and I guess we will have to see how it goes before we decide if we have to change.”

Briar Cliff athletic director Nic Nelson said the GPAC has a different motto when it comes to its basketball programs and things like scholarships.

“We carry junior varsity teams, the GPAC has a tuition restriction with how it scholarships and many of those current Division I schools offer full rides to their athletes,” he said. “There will be an impact, there is no doubt about it.

“You hope this doesn’t impact the GPAC’s ability to be competitive on a national level, but at this point all you can say is you hope that is the case.”

Nelson is taking a wait-and-see approach.

“We have to hold off any strong statements in favor of it or against it until we know what the tournament formats are going to look like,” he said. “There will be a lot of devil in the details as far as the size of national tournament, the size of the final site, what will those locations be? Once they decide that then we will really know what the impact is.”

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