The Southland Conference has been notified by the NCAA that the league cannot award its 2008 championship to its reclassifying member Central Arkansas as planned, should the Bears finish the season in the top position of the league’s standings.By awarding a championship to UCA, or any declaration or reference by the Southland that the institution is the conference champion, the NCAA will revoke the league’s automatic qualification (AQ) into the Division I Football Championship.
As a reclassifying NCAA member moving from Division II to I, Central Arkansas is in the midst of a four-year transition period that, among other things, prohibits its sports programs from participating in NCAA Championships. Once the university completes the transition, its programs are scheduled to have full NCAA DI Championships access beginning in the fall of 2010.
The conference’s membership had approved plans to allow UCA to compete fully for football championship honors, but would have awarded its approved automatic bid to the highest finishing NCAA-eligible team if Central Arkansas finished first in the regular season. Therefore, the championship will be determined amongst the league’s seven other football programs.
“We are very disappointed to learn our competitive plans will not be accepted by the NCAA,” Southland commissioner Tom Burnett said. “Despite our efforts to provide the UCA football program, its student-athletes and university community with the best competitive experience possible during the reclassification period, this restriction limits our intentions. However, under no circumstance can we forfeit our automatic qualification that we’ve had since 1982.”
The Southland began placing Central Arkansas into its football schedule in 2007, but does not include UCA on the AQ application form for the NCAA Championship. In other sports, where there is regular-season play and a conference tournament, UCA has full regular-season championship rights but does not advance to the postseason events where the NCAA bid is competed for.
“By removing UCA from the automatic bid application, which was subsequently approved by the NCAA last spring, we believed that the situation had been adequately addressed,” Burnett added. “However, we will comply with the NCAA Bylaws, and not place our championship access at risk.”
During the reclassification period, if an ineligible team is given access to a conference championship where automatic qualification is at stake, and that team won the title, a conference, per NCAA Division I Bylaw 188.8.131.52(f), would have to relinquish its NCAA automatic bid and rely on having a team or teams chosen at-large.
by Todd Lamb