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Thursday, January 16, 2014
NCAA absolves schools of sked confusion

By Eamonn Brennan

On Saturday, we brought you the strange case of Google Chrome software version NCAA bylaw 20.9.8.1, which reads as follows:

"An institution may schedule and play not more than four basketball games, including any contest (e.g., scrimmage, exhibition), in an academic year against institutions that are not members of Division I."

Simple, right? Straightforward. A rule that doesn’t come up much, if at all, because really: How hard is it?

Kind of hard, as it turns out. This summer, the NCAA welcomed four new schools into transitioning Division I status, and each got its own fancy conference membership to boot. Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word joined the Southland, Grand Canyon joined the WAC, and UMass-Lowell became a member of the America East. Here’s the catch: Because those schools are transitioning to full Division I status, and are not actually full Division I members until that long and cautious process is completed, they actually counted toward opponents’ schedules as non-Division I schools.

The problem? A handful of schools in those teams' respective conferences -- Oral Roberts and Stephen F. Austin in the Southland, and Maine and Vermont in the America East -- didn’t remove their usual diet of non-Div. I opponents from their nonconference schedules. That had ORU, Stephen F. Austin and Maine stuck figuring out whether they would have to forfeit upcoming games. And it left Vermont, which had already played UMass-Lowell, its fifth non-Div. I opponent, once (with another conference matchup to go) fretting that it had violated an NCAA rule.

Good news, everyone: The NCAA nipped it in the bud.

“Today, the NCAA’s Subcommittee for Legislative Relief formally approved a waiver that we submitted on the membership’s behalf absolving all Division I basketball programs, including Maine’s and Vermont’s men’s teams, from penalty for having more than four non-Division I opponents on their schedules,” America East Commissioner Amy Huchthausen said in a statement Thursday. “We very much appreciate the NCAA staff’s efforts to expedite a review of this case and are extremely pleased with the decision, which we believe is fair and appropriate given the circumstances.”

It’s hard to get too laudatory about a timely, common-sense decision, but the NCAA Subcommittee of Legislative Relief hasn’t always had a reputation for the former or the latter. In this case, they did, and the four schools affected won’t have to worry about the impact forfeits and NCAA violations might have on their seasons or the perceptions therein. So it was that the strange case of NCAA bylaw 20.9.8.1 came to its end. And everyone lived happily ever after.