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Cheated of a Championship

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Written by Katherine Clatterbuck

Many students choose to attend a Division III college to enjoy the balance between athletics and academics. While our athletes excel in their sports, the choice of a Division III school comes with prioritizing college courses and potential career paths. While Division I athletes receive crowded stadiums, powerful publicity, and financial scholarships and sponsorships, Division III athletes strive to reach acknowledgements in their own way. Reaching the championships in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference is an honor many athletes hope to achieve in their four years. By winning the ODAC Championship, athletes bring publicity to their colleges, respect for their team, and the chance to play in the NCAA Division III tournament, gaining rewards similar to Division I athletes. Unfortunately, a school year filled with disadvantages saw an unfair ODAC tournament for student-athletes. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, winter sports teams were not allowed to have fans during regular season games. The lack of fans weighed heavily on many athletes who were dearly missing the excitement and drive provided by a cheering stadium. 

In previous years, ODAC tournaments have been played in neutral locations with fans from both teams to uphold the integrity of teams and the playoff setting. This year, the ODAC decided to allow fans at the championship game, but only for the higher seed. This meant that championship games saw the higher seed with home court advantage and cheering fans. Lower seed teams entered a hostile environment, hearing the negative commentary of opposing fans without the support of their own. This discrepancy saw the higher seed winning in most championship games played this year including volleyball, men’s soccer, field hockey, women’s lacrosse, women’s basketball, softball, men’s tennis, and women’s tennis. 

For certain teams, the question of home court advantage went past the unequal support and into the refereeing of the game. Roanoke’s women’s basketball team had 28 total fouls called during the championship game, seeing two key scorers disqualified with 5 fouls and another two key scorers finishing the game in foul trouble with 4. This 28 foul total is a shocking 13 foul increase from the team’s 15.6 foul per game average from the regular season. In this ODAC Championship, the higher seed, the University of Lynchburg, ended the game with 16 fouls total, 12 fouls below Roanoke. Whether penalized by the biased fan base within the arena or the questionable home court advantage, the season statistics and experience of ODAC athletes this season raises questions about the integrity of this year’s tournament.