Reasonable compromise right choice for Rollins rule change

The record will show that the Rollins College women’s golf team won the 2004 NCAA Division II South Regional by 62 shots. Rollins, a liberal arts school with an enrollment of 1,700 in Winter Park, Fla., was expected to have little trouble successfully defending its Division II national title this week (May 12-15) at the Legacy Club at Alaqua Lakes in nearby Longwood, Fla.

One reason the Rollins women are so dominant in their class – they won the Sunshine State Conference Championship by 66 shots – is because they frequently compete against Division I schools. That “raises the bar” for Rollins and gives the Tars a unique recruiting tool, the offer to compete at a big-time level, in sunny Florida, but without the pressures that students in Division I programs must endure.

Seeking to mitigate that recruiting advantage (which also is enjoyed by Division II Florida Southern), the NCAA last June implemented a requirement that in order to be eligible to compete for the Division II championship, D-II schools must play a schedule in which no fewer than 25 percent of its opponents are from the same Division II region. In other words, if Rollins plays 100 teams over the course of 10 tournaments, 25 of those teams must be from the Division II South Region.

The NCAA’s timing, however, was problematic. Although the rule was OK’d in June, some schools – including Rollins – claim they weren’t notified of the change until August. Schedules for the following season typically are set months earlier, by May.

Rollins weighed the cost and implications of changing its schedule to make it compliant and decided to defy the new edict. Coach Julie Garner made some schedule adjustments, then applied for a one-year waiver to the rule. It was declined, although Rollins was allowed to participate in the postseason, with several provisions. Garner was suspended for the postseason (including regionals) and the school was fined $2,000.

In an e-mail sent to Rollins alumni and golf boosters, Garner wrote: “As a tournament director (we host two intercollegiate tournaments), I know the hardship that comes from a team (or teams) withdrawing from tournaments that they have to play in. We felt the honorable and ethical thing to do was to honor the commitments we had made. Also, having already made some travel plans, we would have been financially penalized for dropping tournaments. Passing the rule at the 11th hour was unfortunate, and we felt justified in standing up for what we believed to be the right thing to do.”

Indeed, Rollins’ talented golfers shouldn’t have suffered from a situation beyond their control, but the fine and Garner’s suspension made it clear that the NCAA expects its rules to be followed. Carolyn McKenzie Andrews, a local professional, coached the team in Garner’s absence.

“We weren’t asking for 100 percent, we weren’t asking for 50 percent,” said Kristin Fasbender, assistant director of championships for the NCAA. “It’s 25 percent. The (Division II women’s golf) committee felt that it shouldn’t have been a difficult criteria to meet.”

Certainly the NCAA’s timing was askew, but outright defiance of a rule shouldn’t go unpunished. Thus a compromise was the right thing to do.

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