The NCAA rule designed to ease a school's transition as it ascends through the division ranks will prevent Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., from claiming a spot on the tournament dance floor.
As reported by Sports Illustrated, Bellarmine’s men’s basketball program has in two years gone from Division II status to Atlantic Sun Conference champions, culminating with Tuesday’s 77–72 win over Jacksonville in the ASUN tournament final. But a specific rule will prevent this year’s team from claiming the ASUN tournament champion's automatic bid into the NCAA tournament, which opens with First Four matchups next week.
The NCAA’s rules require Bellarmine to wait four seasons until its teams are eligible for postseason play, meaning Tuesday’s championship game was merely a fight for conference bragging rights. The league’s automatic bid for the NCAA tournament instead goes to regular-season champion Jacksonville State, which lost to Jacksonville in the tournament semifinals.
"While the four-year rule no doubt is meant to provide a sort of ramp-up period for nascent Division I programs, Bellarmine has not needed any kind of grace period to get its sea legs," writes Nick Selbe of SI. "The Knights finished 14–8 with a 10–3 conference mark last season, finishing in second place in the conference. This year, Bellarmine won 20 of its last 28 games after stacking its non-conference schedule with road games against the likes of Purdue, Gonzaga, UCLA, West Virginia, Murray State and Saint Mary’s."
Bellarmine finished 20-13 overall. Jacksonville State takes a 21-10 record into NCAA tournament play.