Ah, NCAA, you’ve done it again. You’ve stopped those evil teenagers from ruining everyone’s fun and destroying the integrity of the game! Let me check back on what those bad, bad Bellarmine were doing again…
Oh, right, winning their conference championship in one of their first seasons in Division I. The NCAA divisional transfer rule, which delays postseason eligibility by four years from the date a school joins Division I, fails to present any meaningful purpose aside from asserting power. Sound familiar?
Bellarmine, a small Catholic school in Louisville, KY, was a Division II powerhouse for years before initiating their transfer to Division I as part of the ASUN conference in 2020, which includes schools such as Jacksonville State, Eastern Kentucky, Florida Gulf Coast, and Liberty University. In just the second year that the Knights were part of the conference, they won it all, beating Jacksonville State 77-72 in a thriller last night.
And so the automatic conference bid for the Big Dance goes to…(all together now) Jacksonville State! JSU won the regular season conference title, and due to the NCAA clause that bans teams from making the NCAA Tournament in their first four years of Division I membership, they will play in place of Bellarmine despite losing to ASUN tournament runner-up Jacksonville in the semifinals. Bellarmine will have to wait and see if they get invited to another postseason tournament like the NIT, but the clause prevents them from getting a shot at March Madness until 2025.
They’re the first team in 25 years to require that the division transition rule actually be applied, highlighting the idiocy of the rule itself. It’s essentially completely irrelevant until it’s used to punish an up-and-coming team for winning a few years too early. While this obviously doesn’t take away from the Knights’ remarkable conference championship run, it does take an exciting opportunity away from fans and players who earned their way there.
After their win yesterday, tournament MVP Dylan Penn said, “It’s kind of surreal. It feels like we’re in a movie. We weren’t supposed to be competing at such a high level this early.” Well, looks like the NCAA agrees with you there, Dylan. The situation is unfortunate, unjust, and overall rather stupid, as there’s no real reason that the Knights should get screwed out of their shot in the tourney. College basketball fans across social media are raising the call to let Bellarmine have their day in the Dance, but we all know how the NCAA operates. Not a lot of optimism there.
And yes, they knew about this rule going in, but that doesn’t make it any less stupid. The general belief is that the rule is in place so that Division II teams don’t jump up a division for a few years with a particularly strong team and destabilize the divisional system — reflective of the NCAA’s individual transfer rule, abolished in 2021, that required transferring athletes to sit out a year. The change in that rule has effectively created free agency in college sports, the merits and detriments of which are still up for debate.
The divisional transition rule effectively prevents most existing athletes on a team that makes the jump from DII to DI from ever seeing the postseason, as four years have to pass before that becomes a possibility. Most Division II teams take that many years, if not more, to build up to a level that would allow them to qualify for a tournament run — most, but not all, which is how Bellarmine now finds itself hoping to get the opportunity to win the title for 69th-best.