HELENA – Changes are coming to the NAIA basketball scene.
Back in April, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics announced it would combine its Division I and Division II basketball divisions effective in 2020-2021, after approval from the Council of Presidents at the national convention in Kansas City, Missouri.
Carroll College and the rest of the Frontier Conference — including Montana teams Rocky Mountain College, Montana Tech, Montana Western, MSU-Northern and the University of Providence – all consist of Division I.
Each program, men’s and women’s, will be allowed a maximum of eight scholarships. The task force, which used nearly two years of research and data analysis to combine the two divisions, also recommended a new postseason format consisting of 64 teams and 16 four-team opening rounds. The 16 finalists from the regional sites will advance to the national tournament, differing from the current 32-team format. That recommendation was approved in July.
“I think it will be exciting. I think if they give some cities like Helena an opportunity to host one of those regional sites, I think it will be huge,” said Carroll College women’s coach Rachelle Sayers. “On the NCAA women’s side, you see a lot of those sites are not necessarily neutral sites, but they go to the sites where they are going to get good crowds and people that want to come out and watch women’s basketball. From that standpoint, I think it will be great. You go to those national tournaments, other than in Billings, and there’s nobody in the stands. I think that’s kind of exciting. The competition will be great. Those teams that move on, you get more people involved in a tournament experience and you get one more chance to get to the national tournament, which is pretty cool.”
Sayers, who has guided Carroll College to the NAIA national tournament in three of the past four years, says she hopes the NAIA “give schools an opportunity to bid on it and I would hope that Carroll would be one of those schools that would bid on it.”
The women’s national tournament has been held in Billings at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark the past two seasons, and held a contract through 2019. This summer, Visit Billings and Rocky Mountain College announced a one-year extension.
The men’s Division I tournament has been held in Kansas City for the past 17 years, where Carroll College and Montana Western participated last spring. Sayers admits student-athletes enjoy the experience of traveling to various parts of the country, but playing in Billings, and potentially other cities in Montana during the regional round of the postseason, has its benefits.
“I think it’s fun for the kids to go somewhere new. I know when I first got here, when we went to Kentucky and out to Kansas City, it was a different experience because the kids had never been to those parts of the country before,” she said. “It was fun in that regard, but to go to Billings and have all of our kids’ families, alumni and fans that were able to follow us, that made a huge difference. I think it’s good both ways. You get an opportunity to go somewhere and experience that and experience a new area, a new gym against teams you’ve never played or sometimes never even heard of, so that’s always exciting. But in the end, to share those experiences with our fans, with our families, with our boosters and alumni is obviously huge.”
Sayers and Carroll open the 2018-2019 season on the road at Walla Walla (Wash.) on Oct. 29, before returning to Missoula for an exhibition contest against the University of Montana the following day.