Coaches and athletics officials at the universities of Maine and Vermont breathed a collective sigh of relief on Thursday.
The men’s basketball programs at both schools were facing the possibility of forfeiting games, and Vermont might have been banned from postseason play, because of a scheduling conflict involving non-Division I schools.
Instead, the America East Conference announced that the NCAA on Thursday morning had formally approved a waiver request that it submitted Sunday on behalf of all Division I schools.
As a result, none of the teams from America East or the Southland Conference that had scheduled too many basketball games against non-Division I opponents will face any penalties from the NCAA or their respective leagues.
“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 press release.
“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,” she added.
UMaine, which had put together its schedule with the understanding the University of Massachusetts Lowell was a Division I opponent, is pleased to have the matter closed.
“We were scheduling as we normally schedule,” UMaine interim athletics director Seth Woodcock said. “We worked closely with the conference to get this resolved.
“Amy did a phenomenal job with the process with the NCAA once it started, and we’re really happy with the result,” he added.
The scheduling issue for Vermont and UMaine arose after the UMass Lowell was admitted for conference membership starting with the 2013-14 school year.
America East explained that confusion arose between two separate NCAA processes regarding scheduling rules and Rating Percentage Index (RPI) waivers for reclassifying members in their first year of the transition process from Division II to Division I.
UMass Lowell has received waivers to be counted in every sport’s RPI calculation, including basketball. However, the conference learned that the waiver did not extend to scheduling requirements, which caused both UMaine and Vermont to schedule too many games against teams that do not qualify as Division I programs.
In basketball, the NCAA allows only four games per year against sub-Division I competition, including exhibition games. The two America East games against UMass Lowell would have accounted for two of those, which means only two other contests against non-Division I schools would have been allowed.
Since America East schools were interpreting those as Division I games, Vermont and UMaine each scheduled four other non-Division I games.
America East has further asked the NCAA Administration Cabinet to review the rules governing reclassifying members. As part of its waiver request, the conference argued that conference members should not be negatively impacted or penalized for fully incorporating a new program such as UMass Lowell into the league schedules.
That goes above and beyond what is required for first-year transitional programs, demonstrating the commitment of both the league and the school to incorporate UMass Lowell as a Division I member.