Marian vs Saint Xavier NAIA Basketball championship game

Marian's Joana Soeiro guards Saint Xavier's Mikayla Leyden during championship action at the 26th Annual NAIA Division II Women's Basketball National Championship Sioux City, Iowa, Tuesday, March 14, 2017. (Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal)

Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal

SIOUX CITY – The NAIA Division II Women’s National Basketball Championship will remain in Sioux City through at least 2019. Probably much longer.

The tournament’s run in Sioux City – which will reach 22 years when the latest two-year extension announced Wednesday is complete – is currently the longest streak for any tournament in one location in the NAIA. The NAIA likes Sioux City as a host site as evidenced by the nine-year run of the volleyball championship that continues to grow each year as well as the recent two-year run of the softball national tournament.

So little seems like it will disturb basketball’s run in Sioux City except for the NAIA Division I tournament. The dwindling number of programs at that level has sparked talk of having just one women’s basketball tournament in the NAIA.

“There is a taskforce in the NAIA that is currently looking at it,” GPAC Commissioner Corey Westra said. “We got a pretty extensive report on it with the preliminary discussion at our (national) convention in April. No action items at this time so I’ll be right up front with that so there are no proposals on the table, it is all what ifs and what led us to this.”

That means this next year will be a big one in determining if the one tournament format will become more than just an idea. It stems from the fact that the number of Division I playing basketball schools is significantly smaller than Division II when it comes to hosting a 32-team postseason tournament.

“If they lose more teams … the ratios are going to get very high for access to a national championship,” Westra said. “It is already at a 30 to 33 percent access ratio which is already well above most of your sports in the NAIA which is around that 18 to 22 percent range.”

One of the biggest reasons for concern is not a massive loss of NAIA institutions to the NCAA level, but the cost of funding full scholarship programs for teams at the Division I level. Westra said it is of particular concern to a pair of conferences.

The math breaks down to Division I institutions having 11 scholarships for basketball to be fully funded while Division II is at six. The Frontier Conference and the Mid-South Conference. The Frontier and the Cascade conferences in the northwest section of the country are already involved in a lot of interconference arrangements in several sports. However, that is not possible in basketball with the Frontier a Division I conference while the Cascade is Division II.

“I think that is why they are having that discussion on whether to go one way or the other,” Westra said. “The other one is in the Mid-South Conference which is a little bit of a different discussion with how far they have gotten into scholar-shipping basketball. They are looking to go back to a little more sustainable model for the enrollment at those schools.”

If two more conferences were to decide to make the move to Division II then the one tournament format would become much more likely. With it would come the question of how to do that?

“If it were to happen what would the scholarship limit be?” Westra said. “Would it be the NAIA II limit of six or would it be somewhere in between the six and 11 we are at now?”

The other big question is how would the teams transitioning from Division I be brought into a tournament where a quick move would seem to give them a natural advantage for several seasons while a longer delay leaves them in a kind of limbo.

That brings a third question of where to host a one-site tournament?

The Division I tournament has been to multiple sites over the year's with Billings, Montana serving as this year's host for the first time.

It is too early to begin to speculate but Westra certainly likes Sioux City’s chances and he is not alone.

“In the open forum (at the convention) there were people that went to the microphones and said ‘I don’t know where this is going, but whatever you do if anything is to happen don’t leave Sioux City, Iowa.’”

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