The Division III Championships Committee is backing an idea that could lead to more student-athletes being funded to attend NCAA championships competition by the 2012-13 academic year.

Reacting to a resolution adopted at the 2011 NCAA Convention that promised to study the appropriate number of student-athletes allowed in the bench area at various Division III championships, the Championships Committee recommended increasing those limits in several sports.

If that gains traction in the governance structure this summer (including budgetary review and sports committee feedback), some of the increases could be effective as early as this coming year. But the way it will work comes with a twist.

In the interest of fully funding the championships experience whenever possible, the Championships Committee is suggesting that growth in the bench area come through increasing the squad size and travel party for participating teams. Because those are reimbursed by the NCAA and thus a budget item, the committee isn’t recommending the proposal until the next budget cycle, which is the 2012-14 biennium (planning for which begins this coming fall).

To accommodate an earlier implementation, though, the committee is recommending that the increases it wants to make in squad size can be applied to the bench area for championships in 2011-12 in applicable sports. Funding those extra spots would come at the institution’s expense for this one year, since additional personnel above and beyond the squad size and travel party are not reimbursed by the NCAA. If championship policy were to be approved that increases the squad size per the committee’s recommendation, though, those increases in subsequent years would be fully funded.

The proposed increases from the committee are in the following sports:

• Baseball (squad size from 24 to 25 for the 2013 championship; bench area from 34 to 35 for the 2012 championship)

• Field hockey (squad size from 22 to 24 for the 2012 championship; bench area from 32 to 34 for the 2011 championship)

• Football [squad size from 52 to 58 for the 2012 championship; bench area from 72 to 75 for the 2011 championship (the Division III Football Committee recommended 75 based on sideline management preferences)]

• Men’s and women’s ice hockey (squad size from 21 to 23 for the 2012 championships; bench area remains at 27 for the 2012 championships due to current playing rules)

• Men’s lacrosse (squad size from 28 to 32 for the 2013 championship; bench area from 38 to 42 for the 2012 championship)

• Men’s and women’s soccer (squad size from 22 to 25 for the 2012 championships; bench area from 32 to 35 for the 2011 championships)

• Men’s and women’s tennis (squad size from eight to nine for the 2013 championships; bench area not applicable, but nine participants are eligible for practice and pre-match warm-up for the 2012 championships)

In all, 25 additional squad spots are being recommended, which if allocated for each team in the applicable championships could require up to $600,000 in funding to be newly allocated or reallocated in the championships budget for the 2012-14 biennium.

The additional student-athletes would be permitted to be in uniform and participate in practice and warm-ups.

The Championships Committee based its by-sport recommendations on data compiled from previous championships and input it requested from sport committees earlier this year. The committee used that, along with a review of the average squad sizes of previous championship participants, to determine the appropriate numbers. Committee members concluded that the existing limits in some sports were adequate; thus, not all sports were recommended for change.

While the review started out as what to accommodate in the bench area, the committee quickly turned its focus on actual squad size, since that would be the most fiscally prudent way to enhance the student-athlete experience without compromising competitive equity or putting undue pressure on facilities.

Stuart Robinson, chair of the committee and director of athletics at New Paltz State, was proud of that approach.

“We took the topic beyond just the scope of looking at increasing the number of student-athletes who can be in the bench area,” he said. “The approach we took puts student-athletes first and is responsive to concerns raised by those who proposed changes at the Convention in January. It also reflects a commitment to what we think the championship experience should be.

“It is more about providing a quality experience outright for student-athletes than it is about saying that schools that could afford to bring additional people should be allowed to do so. It has to be more than that, which is why I’m pleased that our discussion and ultimate recommendations went beyond institutional discretion.”

The Championships Committee also recommended steps to accommodate non-student-athlete personnel as part of the bench-area limits. Committee members are proposing that by the 2012-13 academic year, institutions in team sports other than golf and tennis be required to include an athletic trainer or team physician as a member of the existing travel party. If they don’t, then that spot in the travel party will not be reimbursed. Schools also will be allowed to include one additional medical personnel (which could be a student athletic trainer) in the bench area (at the institution’s expense).

Committee members also agreed to propose funding the “required administrator” spot as a member of the travel party for the 2012-14 biennium. Currently, while it is required for participating schools to bring an administrator who does not have other specified duties at the championship, that person is not funded. The Championships Committee recommended funding that position in the future if there are dollars left over after the squad size adjustments are made.

All of the squad-size recommendations will go to the Division III Strategic Planning and Finance Committee for further review.