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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

KCAC takes big step forward

BY TONY ADAME
The Wichita Eagle

With the gap between the KCAC and the rest of the NAIA quickly turning into a competitive canyon, it was clear to league officials that something needed to be done.

That something, it turns out, was the Sports Regulation Initiative, a change to sports policies and procedures approved last week in a unanimous vote by the KCAC Board of Presidents that might be the most significant change to the league in the last 20 years and a step toward making the KCAC competitive on the national level.

No national team champion has come out of the Kansas Conference dating back at least 20 years.

"It definitely builds the foundation for us being better against the conferences we compete with regionally in the Great Plains Athletic Conference, the Heart of America and the Central States Football League," KCAC commissioner Scott Crawford said. "I'm not sure what it does for us nationally, that might still take some time to determine."

The SRI, at its heart, unifies the KCAC with the NAIA in terms of contest limitations for sports and offseason preparation.

Beginning this academic year, men's and women's basketball teams will be allowed to begin practice earlier than ever before and will be allowed to compete in games earlier than ever. Teams will be allowed two more games, bumping up to 32.

Also beginning in the upcoming school year, baseball teams will be allowed to play 55 games, up from 50, and softball and volleyball will be allowed 28 dates of competition. Previously, the softball and volleyball teams were regulated to 15 regular-season dates and up to eight more competitions — matches or games — to be filled in whenever they could. The new rules are key in these sports because multiple matches and games can be played on the same day.

All the other KCAC sports — soccer, cross country, track and field, tennis and golf — were already competing at the NAIA maximum for allowable contests.

"(Softball and volleyball) are really going to see the biggest jump right away," Crawford said. "They were really hamstrung by the old rules the most."

The biggest benefactor from the SRI, in the long run, may be the KCAC's football teams. Beginning in the fall of 2011, teams will be allowed to play 11 regular-season games — up from 10 — meaning there will be nine conference games and two non-conference games. Beginning in the spring of 2011, all KCAC teams will be allowed up to 15 spring practices, with one of those being a full-pad, intra-squad scrimmage.

That's right, KCAC schools will have spring games.

"We've been pushing for this for a lot of years because we've been at a real disadvantage... . This puts us on an even field with the rest of the NAIA," Friends football coach Monty Lewis said. "Playing against teams that have an extra nine practices and an extra game before you play them always put us behind the 8-ball. I'm thrilled with the way we're going to be doing things. The way we were doing things was old and outdated."

Crawford credited Bethel athletic director Diane Flickner for spearheading the movement toward getting the SRI approved.

"We were using rules that were grounded in the early '90s," Flickner said. "And because of that, we'd fallen into a state of disarray, and that was something that was recognized from the top on down. We knew it was time to make a change and this one was huge. We had input from every single campus in getting this done."

And the changes might not stop.

Crawford said the next couple of years could see the KCAC scholarship limits become more in line with the NAIA maximum and see the league expand by two teams.

Crawford said the KCAC could add a team from the Heart of America and maybe an Oklahoma school, specifically Oklahoma Wesleyan in Bartlesville, if the school were to add football.

"We hear from a lot of schools about coming in, but it never seems right," Crawford said. "Oklahoma Wesleyan could happen if they (added football), which they've talked about.

"It would be great to add two teams and get another automatic qualifier to the national tournaments, but that's a goal of mine and not necessarily a goal of the conference at this time. There might be some problems with branding, because in our name we're a conference based out of Kansas, but I think that's something we could deal with."

Check Tony Adame's small-college sports blog at blogs.kansas.com/statecolleges. Reach him at 316-268-6284 or tadame@wichitaeagle.com.

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