BRIDGEPORT, Pa. -- The Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA), the largest single sport athletic conference in North America, has announced the creation of a women's varsity Division III structure within the organization.
Comprised of Carthage College (Ill.), Chatham University (Pa.), Connecticut College (Conn.), Grove City College (Pa.), Macalester College (Minn.), Pennsylvania State University-Behrend College, Utica College (N.Y.), Washington & Jefferson College (Pa.) and Wheaton College (Ill.), the nine-team organization will compete for a Division III Championship and a berth to the self-funded Division III National Collegiate Championship in May.
The change marks the first time an NCAA conference has divided its membership based on institutional affiliation without an NCAA Division II or III championship in the sport. Women's water polo, which is an NCAA non-divisional sport, features only one championship event with five automatic qualifiers from the Collegiate Water Polo Association, Western Water Polo Association (WWPA), Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF), Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) and Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC), along with three at-large selections from among the remaining eligible conference and independent teams.
Carthage, Macalester and Wheaton, which were NCAA independent institutions prior to joining the CWPA during the Summer of 2009, and the six pre-existing CWPA member institutions will retain all benefits of membership in the CWPA, including votes at the league's Annual Meeting in addition to eligibility for All-Conference and All-Academic awards from the league.
Similar to previous seasons in which the institutions were eligible for either the Northern, Southern or Western Division All-Conference Teams, the Division III institutions' student-athletes will be selected to a fourth All-Division Team exclusively for their membership.
"The realignment for the Division III varsity women's teams within the CWPA will be a great benefit to the student-athletes involved," notes Dan Sharadin, Commissioner of the Collegiate Water Polo Association.
"Although it will create some additional travel in some instances, the opportunity to compete against similar programs will make a huge difference in the level of enjoyment for the players and coaches. Teams on both ends of the competitive spectrum will now be able to go into their contests with a sense of excitement rather than a belief that the outcome is already established."
Changes that occur with the reorganization include the Division III teams electing not to be eligible for inclusion in the Eastern Championship, the championship event which determines the CWPA's automatic qualifier for the 8-team National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Championship. Rather, the Division III teams will compete at an end of year division championship before continuing on to the non-NCAA affiliated Division III National Championship Tournament.
Due to the realignment, the Division I teams which remain in the conference will also experience changes as the number of contests in each division, in addition to the championship structure, will adjust for the fewer programs eligible for a bid to the NCAA Championship.
Teams which will be eligible for the Eastern/NCAA Championship include (by division):
· Brown University
· Hartwick College
· Harvard University
· Bucknell University
· George Washington University
· University of Maryland
· Princeton University
· Gannon University
· Indiana University
· Mercyhurst College
· University of Michigan
· Salem International University
Similar to the previous structure, the top two teams from the Northern, Southern and Western Divisions will automatically earn bids to the Eastern Championship, while the final two places in the championship field will be decided by a panel which will select two at-large berths from the remaining six programs.
In addition to providing a more equitable level of competition among the programs, as Division III institutions do not offer athletic scholarships, the reorganization allows for the growth of the sport.
"Looking forward, the realignment also provides greater growth potential at the Division III level, with new teams having the opportunity to compete against opponents similar in philosophy and size," adds Sharadin.
Due to the Division I programs offering athletic scholarships, the Division III programs elected to separate into their own athletic structure to provide more equity among the teams.
The reorganization has no bearing on the Collegiate Water Polo Association 17-member men's teams which will continue to compete in Northern and Southern Divisions with all of the programs' eligible for the NCAA Championship.
The largest single-sport athletic conference, the Collegiate Water Polo Association is a member of the NCAA and oversees more than 270 teams, including approximately 240 club-teams for both men and women.