January 20, 2014

Dalton State basketball won’t play for NAIA title

Devin Golden

— Regardless of the Dalton State College men’s basketball team’s surprising success or how the team stacks up against the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ best teams, the Roadrunners’ national championship hopes have been dashed.

Dalton State athletic director Derek Waugh said the NAIA has denied all of the school’s appeals to gain eligibility for the 32-team national tournament, scheduled for March.He found out within the last month and told the team in the past few days.

Waugh said the reason is Dalton State has only been an NAIA member for less than one year and teams are ineligible for postseason championships in their first year. The Roadrunners joined the affiliation last summer just weeks before the school’s first athletic events in three decades. The basketball team returned Oct. 30 after a 35-year pause. Waugh said the rule is in place so schools “can get used to eligibility rules.”

“I pushed the envelope as far as I can,” Waugh said. “I gave them our stats in terms of what we’re drawing, what our record is. They said they loved having us in the NAIA but said we can’t go back on that rule.”

Dalton State has a 19-2 record entering tonight’s game in Chattanooga against Tennessee Temple (10-8), another NAIA team. Dalton State has nine games left and will play its last regular season game Feb. 25 at the trade center against Tennessee Temple. It may be the last game for the team’s three seniors — Demetrice Jacobs, Desmond Phillips and Ricky Sears.

Waugh said the team may join a non-NAIA tournament to finish the season but nothing is official.

“We have a lot of seniors,” Preston Earle, a junior guard for the team, said last month when asked about not being able to play for a national title.

“We’re just playing mostly for each other, not just for ourselves but for the ones who won’t be here next year.”

The Roadrunners have the second most wins in the NAIA — trailing No. 3-ranked Cal State San Marcos’ 20-1 mark — and held the top mark a month ago at the team’s halfway point in the 30-game schedule. Dalton State head coach Tony Ingle offered an analogy last month about this topic.

“If you join the NFL, you aren’t allowed to compete for the Super Bowl in the first year?” he rhetorically asked.

Despite the disappointment, Waugh offered the players a reassurance of this season’s importance, which should resonate for years to come in Dalton.

“I told them being part of this first year and the way this first team will be remembered will far exceed any benefit of going to postseason play,” he said.

Dalton State has defeated a ranked NAIA team in Alabama’s Faulkner University (ranked No. 17 at the time) and two teams in last season’s national tournament, Faulkner and South Carolina’s Voorhees College. Dalton State has beaten four of the 15 schools (Auburn University-Montgomery, Belhaven University, Southern Polytechnic State University and Southern Wesleyan University) expected to be in next year’s Southern States Athletic Conference, the league the Roadrunners will join. Spring Hill College is another SSAC team this season — and has lost twice to Dalton State — but is transitioning from NAIA competition to NCAA Division II status and will play an NCAA Division II schedule in 2014-2015.

“The Southern States Athletic Conference is one of the toughest (in the NAIA),” Ingle said. “They have three or four a year make (the tournament).”