July 1, 2011

Why D-III?

By Pat Coleman

It seemed like a simple enough story. When we posted a story that seven schools were considering joining Division III, one Twitter user reacted as follows:


When Division III games are played before packed houses, they're still small crowds, such as a January Amherst-Williams game, which drew 1,150.
Photo by Matt Milless, d3photography.com

We responded that 450 schools had already joined the cause, and the Division III community carried the story forward from there. From the more than 40,000 followers of @d3hoops on Twitter, we got a wide variety of reactions to the question that was eventually boiled down into a six-character hashtag: #whyd3

The reasons for a school to join Division III are fairly straightforward. There's a lot of money to be saved by not offering athletic scholarships. Not offering athletic scholarship money is usually seen as more central to a college's academic mission. A Division III member school is in the same club as some of the elite academic schools in the country, in fact, Georgetown College in Kentucky offered this as a reason for considering Division III, trying to get a Phi Beta Kappa charter. The NCAA reimburses schools for travel to national championship events and gives schools access to catastrophic health insurance. The organization is seen as more prestigious than the NAIA, and certainly has more members and more money.

But the fan reaction was more telling than any of the above could be. We threw the question open to our followers and got some great reactions:

@beskwared, Bill Boyle, said: "@d3hoops If you want a full learning experience that will benefit you educationally, d3 is it. D1 has shine, d3 delivers #whyd3"

@caseyzinn wrote: "d3's offer u great opportunities! I turned down many d2 offers & a couple d1 cause the d3 offered alot on & off court"

@swallball, two-time D3hoops.com All-American guard Sean Wallis of Washington U., said "#whyd3 cuz u realize its abt more than the game and u become friends w who you play against"

Morgan Rainer (@morganrainer), who identifies herself as a Hardin-Simmons tennis player, said "I love playing @d3tennis because I am surrounded by my teammates--not coworkers. It's not a job. We play because we are passionate. #whyd3"

Maybe Division III football games and other sports events are ignored by the mainstream media, but the student-athlete's passion for the game isn't any less and they are no less knowledgeable about the game.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com

And that sums up many of the responses. Why Division III? Because you can play your sport and still be a college student, still have a life outside of your sport. You can be in a play or write for the school newspaper, run for student government. Or take a double major.

Yes, Division III won't offer the same things you can get at Division I. As @sctvi put it, "one major downside, though, to d3 compared to d1 is amount of exposure. EG: D3 sports get very little national tv time." And in fact, this is even less, since the Division III basketball championships were taken off of television and relegated to the Internet this past season, with no talk of them returning. 

But the lack of spotlight takes the pressure off coaches. Win-at-all-costs is a concept rarely heard in NCAA Division III, unlike, say, graduate-at-all-costs. That gives a student-athlete the freedom to play another sport, as @jpkume, Justin Kume wrote: "In my case, only place to offer a chance to play FB & BASE while gettin a solid education & not just a piece of paper!"

Getting a solid education is more than a small part of it, that's to be sure. But so are the personal relationships. And not that one can't have those at other levels, but it's easier when the players are around for all four years. And the coaches will be too, even after a bad year or two. 

@PMehmel21 (Peter Mehmel, a Manhattanville basketball player), spoke about the relationships: "#whyd3 coaches care about you AND want to win, team becomes family."

That's true for many teams, particularly for the Colby men's basketball team. Dick Whitmore retired from the White Mules this offseason after 40 years of coaching, and said "I think I may miss the alumni games more than I would Christmas," he said. "It's really a mutual appreciation situation. I'm so thankful to them not only as players and what they accomplished, but that they sustained the relationship with me after they were done playing. It's a generational thing now with the alumni. The guys that first played for me when I started here are thinking about retirement, and the guys who played for me recently are just starting careers."

Linfield's run to the 2011 Division III softball title spanned the country, from McMinnville, Ore., to Salem, Va.

The people running the D3sports.com network of sites (D3hoops, D3football, etc.) do this for the love of Division III. We've made reference to Division III as "the highest form of purely amateur athletics," because Division II and Division I athletes don't get paid, but they do have scholarship athletes and those people often get special privileges as well.

In Division III, it's the opposite, and that's why we embrace it. Not only are D-III student-athletes fully integrated into the student body, taking the same classes, living in the same dorms, eating in the same dining halls, but in fact, they are more likely to get treated poorly by a professor than given any sort of a break.

And no, they will almost never end up on SportsCenter, or in Sports Illustrated, and the NCAA selection shows might not even pronounce their school's name correctly, but they have a home here at D3sports.com.

There was a lot of discussion over travel, and time commitment and financial aid as opposed to scholarships, and the #whyd3 conversation can continue. Put your thoughts on Twitter, and remember to use the hashtag.

As @coecollegehoops put it, "It's not the level you're at, it's what you do at the level."