October 16, 2011

Iowa Wesleyan to apply to Division III

Iowa Wesleyan would be one of the smallest Division III schools with football.
Iowa Wesleyan athletics photo 

The Board of Trustees of Iowa Wesleyan College have voted to apply for membership in NCAA Division III by Jan. 15, 2012. The school currently is a member of the NAIA.

The move came as a result of a recommendation of the grop dedicated to enrollment management and athletics, which has focused on developing recommendations to help build student enrollment through recruitment and retention strategies. Iowa Wesleyan has 662 full-time undergraduates as of its last filing to the U.S. Department of Education and is in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, about 70 miles south of Cedar Rapids.

"There are a number of compelling reasons to pursue affiliation with NCAA as a member of their Division III," said college president Jay Simmons. "Chief among them is to provide our athletic teams an opportunity to be more competitive by playing colleges similar in size, budget and mission to Iowa Wesleyan College," he said. 

"In addition, as an NCAA D-III school, our scholarship focus would shift to give us greater equity in scholarship support for athletes and non-athletes as all of the college's institutional aid would be based on academic merit, fine arts performance and need."

Iowa Wesleyan is currently the smallest member in the NAIA's Midwest Collegiate Conference, where all teams except football compete. The Iowa Wesleyan football program participates in the Mid-States Football Association.

With its application to the NCAA, Iowa Wesleyan will pursue admission to the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which does not offer football. Participation in the new conference as a provisional NCAA D-III school could begin in August 2012.

Football would need to find another home, and geographically, the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference could be an option. The UMAC already has 10 football programs, however, and adding an 11th program could be problematic, unless the conference expands to 12 teams for football and adds Finlandia, a new program scheduled to start in 2012. That would give the conference the ability to split into divisions and play a football title game, similar to the New England Football Conference and many conferences in Division I.

The change in scholarship policies applies only to those students enrolling at Iowa Wesleyan in the fall of 2012 or later. Simmons emphasized that all currently enrolled students receiving an athletic scholarship will retain that scholarship, subject to the usual provisions of academic progress and good standing.

"No currently enrolled student's athletic scholarship will be affected by this change," Simmons said. "In fact, some currently enrolled student-athletes may qualify for additional aid, depending on academic merit."

Simmons acknowledged that with this announcement the NAIA will suspend Iowa Wesleyan's membership at the end of the 2012 spring athletic seasons. NAIA bylaws stipulate that game schedules will be retained but the school would be barred from postseason play beginning with the fall 2012 season. For this school year, Iowa Wesleyan teams will be able to advance to postseason play if they earn it in the Midwest Collegiate Conference.

As a provisional member of the NCAA, Iowa Wesleyan will not be eligible for postseason competition until the end of a provisional year and a four-year transitional period. For these reasons, Simmons said, Iowa Wesleyan has joined the United States Collegiate Athletic Association. 

"Should any of our teams compile a record that would have allowed them to compete in a postseason tournament during this transitional period, we pledge that we will send that team to the USCAA event," Simmons said. "We can assure our student-athletes that they will not be denied an opportunity to continue a successful season."

Iowa Wesleyan's athletic programs include competition in baseball, men's and women's basketball, men's and women's cross country, football, men's and women's golf, men's and women's soccer, softball, men's and women's track and field and volleyball.

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