by Dick Hall-Sizemore
During this time of year, the sports world is fixated on the NCAA Division I basketball tournament. Richmond fans give the VCU Rams a big sendoff. Hokie fans cheer their top-seeded women’s team. UVa. alumni die a little bit inside when the Cavaliers lose to Furman in the last seconds. Despite being assured in 2019 by the administration that, upon the firing of long-time basketball coach Tony Shaver, it was time for a “new chapter” in Tribe basketball to include participation in the NCAA tournament; William and Mary alumni and fans are still waiting.
However, there is another basketball venue in which two Virginia schools are powerhouses: Division III. Last year, Randolph-Macon College in Ashland won the national championship. Before its defeat in the Sweet Sixteen earlier this month, it had compiled a record 64-home-game winning streak. Talk about giving the fan base some excitement!
The other Virginia college in top of the Division III tournament is Christopher Newport University in Newport News. Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams made the Final Four. This was the fourth time in the programs’ history that the men’s and women’s team have made the Final Four (although not in the same year until now). The men’s team made it to the Elite Eight last year. The women’s team was undefeated this year. Yesterday, the men’s team won its semi-final game to make it to the championship game for the first time.
If you pine for the “good old days,” Division III is the answer. [Full disclosure: my grandson swims for a Division III school. Unfortunately, for me, it is not in Virginia.] These are the real “student-athletes.” There are no athletic scholarships. There is no high pressure recruiting, with frequent hints of scandal. There are no “one and dones.” There are no players jumping from school to school via the transfer portal. It is rare that a Division III player goes on to the pros. These players put in all the hours required for practice, in addition to their regular course load, because they love the sport they are in, participating on a team, and representing their school.
The CNU men play for the championship on Saturday. Reportedly, it will be televised on the CBS Sports Network. It is not clear whether it will be 3:00 or 4:00. The CNU women’s semi-final championship will also be on Saturday at 5:00. It does not seem that it will be televised.