Athletes last chance to win a NAIA National Title

Last year’s Cross Country NAIA award (Photo by Kaitie Fox).

Pioneers athletes and coaches were under the assumption that they’d have two years remaining in the NAIA playoffs before switching to NCAA. However, this assumption came before this year’s NAIA national convention where an amendment was passed limiting postseason play to one year for all NCAA applicants.

Charlie Grimes, Pioneers Athletic Director, said he voted “no” for this proposal at the convention and gave the NAIA an interesting rationale.

“They ought to spend less time punishing the schools who are leaving and spend more time asking why they are leaving,” said Grimes.

“Right now we are appealing from an athlete’s perspective,” said Grimes. “So we are saying don’t cheat our athletes out of what we recruited them on which was the understanding that they would have two years of postseason eligibility.”

Grimes said he does not see this appeal being very successful. Therefore, other alternatives Grimes is looking into include having independent championships with other schools that are in the same situation, participating in the NCCAA (National Christian College Athletic Association) playoffs or fast tracking into a NCAA Division II conference.

The changing in the rule is without a doubt disappointing, but coaches like volleyball’s Tanya Hockman are more focused on taking on the new challenges the change will present.

“It is what it is,” said Hockman. “There is no use to expend my emotional energy on getting worked up over the fact that we won’t be competing in postseason. Instead, I am trying to concentrate my efforts and attention on the fact that we may be striving for some different goals than in the past. One of the goals is being eligible to compete in the Christian Nationals at the end of the year.”

The cross country program will more than likely feel this change the most considering the men are three-time defending NAIA champions and the women are beating Division I schools such as Akron University.

The level of competition in the NCCAA is not up to par with the kind of runners the cross-country program regularly produces, so coach Jack Hazen is looking into joining the USA Club Cross Country Nationals, according to Grimes. This meet would present the opportunity to run against professional athletes.

“I think the competition there is tougher than the NAIA Nationals,” said Nick Meeson, sophomore men’s cross country runner. “We would compete against people who are like 25, 26 and 27 and can run 5k’s under 14 minutes. If we put ourselves up against a scale like that it can really show us national-caliber and world-club teams.”

Grimes said he does not worry about this having major ramifications on potential or current athletes because all sports will be facing stiffer competition next year and beyond. He said many of the teams such as football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball and baseball will be competing against high-caliber programs such as NCAA Division II and I schools.

Coach Tim Walker, men’s basketball head coach, echoes Grimes and his low level of concern as he considers having no postseason next year as more of a challenge and positive experience than anything.

“We are excited about the transition and think it will be a great thing for our program,” said Walker. “This is just one of the necessary road blocks that is part of this transition.”

As for recruiting, Grimes said this would be a setback on transfer students who are looking to join something prominent right away. However, he said he believes the gap has already been bridged for next year’s incoming class of freshman athletes.

“I believe our coaches are already starting to reap the benefits of a greater notoriety at Malone because we are going to be a Division II school,” said Grimes. “That has helped us in recruiting and by far the positive effect is greater than the negative effect.”

Chris Sherwood sports editor and contributing writer for The Aviso.

Categories: Sports

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