Those were the words that came from some of the top Division III wrestling programs in the nation Wednesday after the NCAA announced it was canceling all Division III winter championship events for the 2020-21 academic year.
Knight head coach says losing an opportunity like this is hard to process
“I am crushed,” Wisconsin-La Crosse head coach Dave Malecek texted to The Courier.
“Unbelievable,” Wartburg head coach Eric Keller said. “I can’t comprehend it. I literally can’t wrap my head around it. We’ve done everything we’ve been asked to do, followed all the requirements, made the adjustments. I’m heartbroken, again, for these guys.”
The announcement comes 11 months after wrestlers were told the 2020 Division III championships were being canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic while athletes were warming up on the competition floor at the Alliant Energy PowerHouse in Cedar Rapids.
WAVERLY – Joe Breitbach joined the Wartburg College wrestling program as a freshman in 1967.
Shortly after 7 p.m. Wednesday as the news began leaking on social media, the NCAA released a statement.
“Today, we made the difficult decision to cancel our Division III winter championships. While some institutions have been able to safely return to sport, the recent declaration form data show that more than half of our division has not returned to winter sport practice and competition to be in a position for NCAA national championship participation,” said Fayneese Miller, chair of the Presidents Council and president at Hamline. “This was a very difficult decision to make, and we are saddened to do so. However, none of our winter sports meet the Championships Committee’s established thresholds of participation to hold a championship. We are committed to ensuring that our student-athletes have the best possible experience, and, for us, this means having a meaningful number of competitions. We hope this is possible for our spring championships.”
There were two main thresholds for Division III championships to be contested. For men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, and men’s and women’s indoor track the threshold was 60%.
As of Jan. 31, only 48.6% of men’s basketball programs and 46.2% of women’s basketball programs had elected to participate in the 2020-21 season.
The Knights will compete against an NCAA Division I dual opponent for the first time in nine years.
The threshold for men’s and women’s hockey and wrestling was 70%. Of the 109 schools that sponsor Division III wrestling, 61.8% had announced they would compete in the 2021 season.
The Courier had begun work on an update last week about the Division III wrestling championships having talked to both Malecek and assistant director of athletics at UWL, Carly Sprouse, on Jan. 25.
Wisconsin-La Crosse was set to host the Division III championships March 5-6.
Both said the university was moving forward as if the 2021 Division III wrestling championships would be held inside the LaCrosse Center, which is in the final stages of a $40 million face lift.
Sprouse, while saying many protocols hadn’t been set as far as fan attendance, texted this to the Courier: “I do not have a ton to discuss, though we are currently planning to host this event.”
Malecek in a phone interview was upbeat and excited as the championships were getting closer.
“Everything I’m being told here at UW-La Crosse is we are planning on having the NCAA championships inside the La Crosse Center, newly renovated,” Malecek said. “Everything we have heard and everything they (NCAA) have passed on to us … say it is a go.”
Keller said Wartburg director of athletics Rick Willis reached out to him prior to the NCAA releasing its statement to break the news to him. The Knights, who were top-ranked in Division III, had just finished practice and many of Keller’s athletes had already gone home.
It will be the first time Wartburg has faced a Division I opponent since losing to Wisconsin, 17-16 on tiebreakers, during the 2011-12 season.
It was in a shock-like trance that Keller said he began making the calls to his team.
“We knew this was a possibility,” Keller said. “If you are an optimist and always think this will work out, and maybe that is me to a fault, but I never thought that this was going to happen. I was convinced we were going to have the championships. I never allowed myself to go down the path that we wouldn’t have it.
“Never. Never. I’m frustrated. The timing is questionable. Why not earlier in the day when we could’ve all been together when the news was released? I’m devastated for our guys.”
Keller said as of now the Knights plan on finishing their regular-season competitions. Wartburg is scheduled to host Buena Vista and Central Saturday inside Levick Arena.