Longtime Division II powers Naples, SHAPE and Vicenza will move up to Division I in all team sports except for football in a divisional realignment announced this week by DODDS-Europe Athletic Director Karen Seadore.

Alconbury and Baumholder, meanwhile, will drop from Division II back to their familiar Division III level.

Seadore said the move comes in response to a series of requests from both Division I and Division II athletic directors; the former were concerned about constantly playing a small group of opponents, while the latter had the opposite complaint about too large a field.

Seadore said she and the European Athletic Committee reviewed how some stateside associations slotted athletic teams. They found that it was common practice to create divisions with equal numbers of schools, whereas DODDS-Europe had been establishing rather arbitrary tiers of school population and assigning schools accordingly.

The result of DODDS-Europe’s former approach was a Division II glut comprised of schools with populations roughly between 100 and 300, with larger schools and very small schools occupying the dwindling extremes of Divisions I and III. Recent European tournaments have featured as many as 16 teams stuffed into the Division II bracket while less than half that number occupied the respective Division I and III brackets.

The new alignment shifts the highest-population Division II schools up to Division I and the lowest-population Division II schools down to Division III.

The 2014-15 arrangement features 10 schools apiece in Division I and Division II and nine in Division III, though not every school fields a team in each sport DODDS-Europe offers.

“We looked at some of our stateside counterparts and how they group their classes,” Seadore said. “We thought that if we used that thinking, that would certainly help” balance out the lopsided divisions.

Though the 2014 fall season is already under way, the new alignment will take effect immediately and apply to the European championship tournaments set for October through early November. Seadore said the committee will review the alignment in the spring and discuss necessary changes for 2015-16.

Divisional alignment has little impact on regular-season scheduling, which is primarily based on schools’ geographical proximity. Seadore said changing that approach is currently “not in the plans,” citing budgetary concerns.

Further, the change will be marginal in largely individual sports such as golf, cross country, tennis, wrestling and track, where competitors already share a single field at the European championship level.

Divisional team champions in such sports are based on teams’ cumulative points earned.

The realignment, however, represents a major shift in the landscape of each season’s primary team sport: volleyball in the fall, basketball in the winter and soccer in the spring.

Naples, SHAPE and Vicenza, each with around 300 students, will now find themselves in postseason brackets with existing large-school powers such as Ramstein, Patch and Wiesbaden. That might endanger their recent run of titles: Naples won Division II European championships in girls soccer, girls volleyball, and baseball last season, while Vicenza did the same in boys basketball and softball.

“We are a little tentative down here and not sure how to react,” Naples athletic director Dirk Lambertson said. “Some coaches are excited about the challenge and look forward to the move, others are not happy at all.”

Count Eric Wakefield, coach of Vicenza’s 2013-14 championship boys basketball squad, among those looking forward to the challenge. The Cougar coach said the change “will be a difficult adjustment for some and not so difficult for others,” adding that he’s “excited to have this opportunity.”

Coaches and administrators at incumbent Division I schools were largely receptive to the new competition, even if it comes from schools with a significantly smaller student population.

“It is a welcome addition,” Vilseck girls volleyball coach Brian Swenty said, adding that he expects the three new additions to hold their own at the higher level. “With the drawdowns and closures, we felt we were stagnating a bit in Division I.”

The Italian schools soccer teams could be particularly disruptive to the status quo, Wiesbaden boys soccer coach Ben Arcila said.

“My impression is that the smaller-population schools will not be necessarily weaker than the bigger schools,” Arcila said. “Passion for a certain sport varies from school to school independent of size.”

Teams remaining in the newly streamlined Division II are happy to see their mathematical chances for success improve.

“It gives everyone a bit of hope and levels the playing field,” Bitburg boys basketball coach Nate Goolsby said. “Everyone has to breathe a little easier.”

Hohenfels athletic director Kathlene Clemmons agreed, calling the change “a breath of fresh air” while adding that it still doesn’t guarantee success.

“I am not misled by this decision that wins will come easier,” Clemmons said.

Division III, meanwhile, has been dominated recently by Brussels and Sigonella. The expansion of the field from seven to nine, and the return of solid programs Alconbury and Baumholder, might change that. But as with all things in DODDS-Europe, such successes are often fleeting anyway.

“It is like a revolving door,” Alconbury athletic director Jeffrey Black said. “Some years we have teams that can compete against the D-I and D-II schools. Then there are years we just can’t. But that’s true for everyone. “We are always going to have that discrepancy in DODDS.”

Twitter: @broomestripes

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