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NAIA reduces national tournament basketball bids to 48 teams
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NAIA reduces national tournament basketball bids to 48 teams

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Morningside vs WVU Tech

Morningside's Taylor Rodenburgh shoots a three-pointer past WVU Tech's Brianna Ball, Wednesday, during Morningside vs West Virginia University Institute of Technology action in the first round of the NAIA Division II tournament at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City on March 11, 2020.

There are now fewer bids to get into the NAIA women's and men's national basketball tournaments.

On Friday, the NAIA announced that instead of 64 total bids, there will be 48 teams for each of the women's and men's national tournaments.

However, the amount of teams at the final site won't change. So 16 teams will still be in Sioux City and also Kansas City. The tournament in Sioux City is played at the Tyson Events Center.

But the number of total teams in the tournaments to get to Sioux City and Kansas City has been reduced by 16 teams for both the women and the men.

"With the current pandemic and the amount of participants and looking at the ratios for the teams available to teams in the tournament, 48 is the appropriate number," Great Plains Athletic Conference commissioner and co-tournament director for the women's tournament Corey Westra said. "Step one was the field adjustment. On February 1, we will have a better snapshot of everything else.

"There's still 16 teams in Sioux City. This doesn't change that."

Westra said no attendance protocols have been set for the final site in either Sioux City or Kansas City yet.

Last season all four of the NAIA national tournaments (D-I and D-II) were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is the first season that NAIA combined into one division for basketball.

Even though the number of bids is being reduced, the change was designed to maintain conference at-large berths. So the GPAC will still send at least two teams to the women's tournament and two teams to the men's tournament - the regular-season conference champions and the tournament champions. Morningside currently is in the top spot in both the men's and women's standings. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the GPAC basketball schedules but no games have been outright canceled. There have been games postponed but not canceled and there hasn't been a single GPAC team that has opted out of the season.

That isn't the case around the nation in the NAIA, especially along the West Coast. The Cascade Conference only has two schools playing basketball games currently - the College of Idaho and Lewis-Clark State in Lewiston, Idaho. The rest of the league is located in Washington and Oregon.

"There are some conferences that are struggling to play or haven't played," Westra said. "It really varies region by region in the United State. The Pacific Northwest, they were struggling to get going back (in the fall) and it hasn't changed. ... We've been fortunate in the Midwest. We had a pretty successful fall and you look at the winter, we have done a good job and that's not without a lot of hard work."

Now the GPAC teams will compete to try and get in one of the pods.

The 16, four-team tournaments per gender become an eight-team, six-team (three-team pod) tournaments per gender. Four sites have already been announced. Wichita, Kansas, will host two of the tournaments and Omaha, Nebraska, and Alexandria, Louisiana, will both continue as hosts. 

According to Westra, the NAIA has yet to figure out the rest of the sites but Sioux City won't be a pod, partly because there are other events scheduled at the Tyson Events Center during that time.

Each opening site will feature two three-team pod tournaments per gender. The top seed will receive a bye and the No. 2 and No. 3 teams will play each other on day one. The winner of that game faces the No. 1 seed in that pod for the championship. The pod champion will go to the NAIA national championship final site.

"Under the new system, we actually know where our teams will go. We were already assigned to go to Omaha and Wichita," Westra said. "The Wichita and Omaha locations are very, very good. We are excited about that."

The move from 64 to 48 teams comes after the NAIA moved the indoor track and field national championships from Brookings, S.D., to Mount Marty University in Yankton, S.D. Plus the NAIA split up the swimming and diving national championships, splitting it into two separate competitions for 2021.

The winter NAIA national championships will happen before the fall championships, too, since those were moved to the spring.

Morningside won the GPAC football title, earning a spot in the NAIA playoffs in the spring. What isn't known is if the Mustangs will have a game or not but there are some scrimmages on the horizon.

Northwestern and Dordt both have a chance to earn a playoff spot as well.

"Football, we were fortunate to have a season and we crowned a conference champion," Westra said. "All of those schools have to do what they can to stay prepared. We are telling our conference schools if you want to play or scrimmage, you can do that have March 1. By the end of March, you could see some scrimmages or a game. We haven't had anyone that has said they have scheduled a game yet."

After the NAIA women's national tournament in March, Sioux City and the Tyson Events Center will host the NAIA national volleyball tournament.

Westra said 24 of the 48 national qualifiers will still come to Sioux City and no changes have been made yet to the volleyball tournament.

"We have not put both feet in the pool on volleyball. We are focused on the winter sports," Westra said. "We are 45 days away from the basketball championships happening. It's a critical time for the winter championships."

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