The Division I Women's Rowing Committee is recommending the establishment of automatic qualifiers to the championship.
The committee announced its decision after its annual meeting last month in Colorado Springs. If accepted by the Division I Championships/Sports Management Cabinet, the recommendation would become effective in 2011.
Tom Bold, associate athletics director at Brown and committee chair, said the group considered the move to automatic qualification as the final step in a three-step process that began with reclassification of rowing from an individual-team sport to a team sport and the expansion of the championship field, which occurred this past year. The 2009 championships field included 16 full teams.
Bold acknowledged opponents' fears that automatic qualification will water down the championship field, but he said the committee's decision is in line with other NCAA team sports.
"There are going to be some conferences that will be represented that traditionally haven't been represented, but we feel this is the same model the NCAA has for all of its team sports," he said. "Certainly within any championship, there are AQs that simply on merit probably wouldn't be there if there weren't AQs. I think this will be the same as any other championship."
However, Bold said the championship has been able to expand because of increased sponsorship. "You can't use the sponsorship numbers in rowing to have the ability to expand and not give conferences that sponsor the sport access to the championship," he said.
Ultimately, the committee believes that introducing automatic qualification won't change much about the championship.
"The championship is still going to have the top 12 or 13 teams in the country," said Bold. "We're still going to have great semifinal racing on Saturday and finals racing on Sunday. Just because we move to AQ, it's not going to be different than any other championship."
The committee recommended eliminating awards for individual boats at the championships. If the Championships/Sport Management Cabinet accepts the recommendation, only the top four teams overall will be recognized, unlike in previous years when the overall team champion was honored in addition to individual champions in the I Eights, II Eights and Fours.
Placement still matters, said Bold, but individual boats will be earning points only toward the team championship.
"We felt that recognizing individual performances was sending a mixed message with the team aspect," said Bold. "This was definitely a committee decision, but we also felt that it was something that may have been mandated down the road from the standpoint that no other team sport awards individual medals."
In other action at the Division I meeting, the committee chose Marshall Foley of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference to succeed Bold as chair.
Divisions II and III actions
The Division I committee met concurrently with the Divisions II and III panels. All three agreed to adjust the way championships officials are chosen. The new process calls for the national committees to continue to select the head official, but now the regional advisory committees in each division will recommend officials for the remaining 19 slots. The national committees will compile a pool of qualified nominees from which the head official will chose the 19 officials. The national committees will have final approval of selected officials.
Previously, the head official was responsible for choosing the other 19 officials. Although additional steps have been introduced into the selection process, the national committees believe the enhancements ensure the best officials are selected for the championships.
The Division III Women's Rowing Committee decided to eliminate a requirement that every region be represented by at least one participating team. The decision halts a three-year trial aimed at spurring growth and increasing the level of competition in the division.
In two of the three years since the criteria was established, the committee has enforced the regional representation requirement.
The Division III committee also reviewed, but did not change, the championship format in response to a proposal for separate events for the I Eights and II Eights. Currently, I Eights and II Eights compete against each other in one event. The committee re-emphasized its commitment to the present format because it not only provides for exciting racing but also because it suits the championship at this point in its development.
The committee believes separating the I Eights and II Eights races would result in the elimination of some teams on the first day of competition and create smaller races, which are less spectator-friendly.
However, the committee did not rule out a format modification in the future. The group said it would be willing to entertain discussion to change the format should the field size increase, either by adding teams or by at-large boats being expanded into full teams.
Meanwhile, the Division II Women's Rowing Committee agreed to change the race progression for Fours to two heats of two boats. Previously, all four Four boats participated in one heat, with the winner advancing to the grand final. The other three boats participated in a repechage, in which the top two finishers also advanced to the grand final and the third boat was eliminated.
Under the newly proposed progression, the winners of each of the two heats automatically advance to the grand final, while the non-winning teams face off in a second race, in which the winner also advances to the grand final.
If approved by the Division II Championships Committee, the new progression would be effective in 2010.
In other action, the Division II committee selected John Gartin, head coach at Nova Southeastern, as its new chair.