MT. PLEASANT — The Iowa Wesleyan men’s soccer team finished off a dream season on Saturday, beating MacMurray 2-1 in double overtime to finish the conference season 8-0-1. The Tigers won the St. Louis Intercollegiate (SLIAC) regular season championship, finishing 1.5 games ahead of second-place Principia, who went 7-2. But when the four-team SLIAC tournament begins tonight (Wednesday), the Tigers won’t be on the field.
IW was disqualified by the SLIAC for going over the conference’s acceptable number of yellow cards. The conference implemented sportsmanship guidelines this fall, shortly before the soccer season began. The maximum amount of yellow cards a team could have was 35. According to the conference, IW exceeded the maximum by five yellow cards, although NCAA.com’s Division III soccer stats have the Tigers at 39 on the season.
“I don’t think the Administrators would have developed the policy if there weren’t a growing problem with inappropriate behavior or sportsmanship within the league,” says SLIAC Commisioner Dr. Dick Kaiser.
Kaiser says the SLIAC implemented the rules to fit more appropriately with the D-III philosophy of promoting sportsmanship. The conference had a difficult time last season with yellow and red cards in men’s soccer, technicals in basketball and ejections in baseball.
“In men’s soccer, the league had four teams (out of 10 teams in the league) that were in the top 55 D-III teams in the NCAA to receive yellow cards,” Kaiser says. “Additionally, there were four teams that tied for the national D-III lead in the total number of red cards received. So it became readily apparent to the Athletic Directors of the SLIAC that something had to be done, because the play in Men’s SLIAC was out of control with aggressiveness, language, back-talk to officials and overall sportsmanship.”
According to archived stats from last season, IW led Division III in yellow cards last year by a healthy margin. The Tigers had 61 yellow cards on the year with Rutgers-Camden coming in second at 49. Spalding University, a SLIAC power, was seventh in the league, with 44. Fontbonne University had 38 yellow cards last season, cracking the top 20. Greenville University was tied for 34th, with 34 cards.
This season, the SLIAC did receive a bump down in yellow cards. After totalling out at 293 yellow cards in 2018, the conference shed 67 yellows this season. IW alone had 22 fewer yellow cards this year than they did last season.
The rules put in place this fall put a limit on soccer cards, technicals, ejections and suspensions. The proposal was approved by the Administrative Council of the SLIAC, which includes Athletic Directors, Senior Women’s Administrators and Faculty Athletic Representatives before going to the President’s Council.
The by-laws did leave room for appeal, and IW attempted to take advantage, sending a written appeal. IW requested an AD Hoc Committee review in hopes that the committee would overturn the Commissioner’s decision, but the decision was upheld on Monday morning.
“Although I understand the purpose of the sportsmanship guidelines, I was disappointed to hear that the initial ruling of disqualifying Iowa Wesleyan from the conference tournament was upheld,” said Athletic Director Derek Zander. “These guidelines were implemented for the 2019-2020 season and there are apparent variables that were not considered when these guidelines were adopted. We do take responsibility for exceeding the yellow card limit, and we will continue to work with the conference to make sure our concerns are voiced, and that the necessary adjustments are made to ensure representation in future conference tournaments.”
Also on Monday morning, the SLIAC released its 2019 men’s soccer bracket. Principia, a team IW defeated 3-2 on the road this season, was given the No. 1 seed. The Tigers also scored a 3-2 win at third-seeded Greenville and a 5-3 win at Westminster, got the fourth-seed. Spalding University earned a draw with IW in Mt. Pleasant.
The SLIAC released the seeds on Twitter, along with a note that IW had been declared ineligble. The release was met with backlash from a few IW students and graduates. “How unfair,” said one commenter. “You just can’t beat them on the court so you have to on paper,” said another.
The Tigers were coming off a second-place finish in the SLIAC tournament last year, a historic run that gave IW its first-ever SLIAC tournament berth. Had they not been disqualified, they would have been the No. 1 seed and held homefield advantage throughout the tournament.
To ad insult to injury, IW wasn’t even in the top five in D-III yellow cards this season. IW was eighth, a full nine cards behind first place Rowan University.
Rowan, who had a D-III leading 48 yellow cards this season, plays in the New Jersey Athletic Conference, which does not have a sportsmanship clause for postseason contention. The Owls were able to compete in their conference tournament and coindidentally won their own 2-1 double-overtime game on Saturday, advancing past Kean University to reach the NJAC semifinals.
In all, there are 28 NCAA schools that currently have more yellow cards than IW this season. The highest number of yellow cards went to Ohio Valley, a Division II school who has 51 cards with two games to go.
There were several factors that contributed to IW eclipsing the 35-card limit. The Tigers played 19 games this year, tied for most in the SLIAC. In order to qualify for the postseaon, the Tigers would have had to average less than two yellow cards a game, not an easy task when you play in the most penalized conference in D-III.
Conversely, Ohio Valley’s 51 cards have come over the course of 15 games. Rowan played 16 regular season games and one conference tournament game to earn their 48.
“I believe the number that was set was done so months before the season began and every coach and administrator knew the target number long before the first games were played,” says Kaiser. “Is it the right number? That will be something the AD’s and other administrators will discuss in upcoming meetings. As for number of games, there were three teams in the SLIAC that had played a total of 19 games. The other two teams that did play 19 succeeded in remaining below the target number.”
The other two teams who played 19 games were Fontbonne University and Spalding University. Fontbonne finished the year with 28 yellow cards, and Spalding had 27.
Westminster College was the team that most helped out by IW’s disqualification. The Blue Jays were bumped into the top four and their season was kept alive because of IW’s disqualification. The Blue Jays, however, flirted with the limit themselves, collecting 31 yellow cards this season, second-most in the conference.
However, while IW playd 19 games to get to their final total, Westminster played just 16, electing to play three less nonconference games. The Tigers averaged 2.05 yellow cards per game, and the Blue Jays were just behind them, averaging 1.94. If IW played the same number of games as Westminster and received their average of two yellow cards per game, they would have finished with less than 35 cards on the year and remained eligible for the conference tournament.
The Tigers will remain SLIAC regular season champions. Unfortunately for IW soccer fans, that championship does not come with an automatic bid to the D-III tournament. The conference tournament championship does, however, so either Principia, Spalding, Greenville or Westminster will represent the SLIAC in the national tournament.
This is the first time a SLIAC athletic team has been disqualified for postseason play.
2019 SLIAC MEN’S SOCCER STANDINGS
1. Iowa Wesleyan University 8-0-2
3. Principia College 7-2*
3. Spalding University 6-2-1*
4. Greenville University 6-3*
T-5. Westminster College 5-4*
T-5. Webster University 5-4
7. MacMurray College 3-6
8. Fontbonne University 3-6
9. Blackburn College 1-8
10. Eureka College 0-9
*2019 SLIAC tournament participant