Open Letter to Division III Presidents

The following was sent, via regular mail, to Peggy Williams, the president of my alma mater, Ithaca College. It addresses the impending, and much discussed, NCAA Division III legislation that would eliminate scholarships for “play up” schools.

It’s important that all the schools with no connection whatsoever to the 12 affected programs understand the issue. Ithaca College does not, as they say, “have a dog in this fight,” but they will vote. Feel free to copy and paste this letter, alter it as you see fit, and send it to your college’s president.

Dear Ms. Williams,

I write to you as a proud alumnus of Ithaca College and the School of Communications. I write to you with a deep concern about a piece of NCAA legislation that you will have a part of ratifying, or not.

Recently, the members of the NCAA President’s Council (15 of your colleagues), voted to unanimously pass a series of Division III athletic reforms. These will, presumably, be ratified at the annual January NCAA Convention. All of the reform proposals were unanimously recommended by the Council, except one.

This one — though it was ultimately recommended after a lot of discussion — eliminates the ability of D-III schools that have one D-I sport (1 each for men and women), to grant athletic scholarships.

Apparently, this proposal was included in the overall package because some believe allowing these few schools to “play up” in one D-I sport ruins the “purity” of D-III athletics. Further, it’s been said, those schools that offer one “play up” sport have an unfair advantage in their regular D-III sports.

I write to you, urging you to vote against this short-sighted and disastrous legislation at the January convention.

Of the more than 400 Division III schools representing over 5,000 teams, only 12 programs are affected by this legislation. Among them, four are very prominent members of Division I men’s ice hockey (St. Lawrence, Clarkson, RPI and Colorado College), and one is a very prominent member of Division I lacrosse (Johns Hopkins).

To understand why this legislation is short-sighted and disastrous, it’s essential to understand the history. Using the hockey schools as an example, they are four of the most storied programs in history. They have been playing the sport for over 50 years, some for almost 100. Colorado College, for example, hosted the first 10 NCAA tournaments. Clarkson was the first college hockey program to record 1,000 wins.

Remember, these schools began playing hockey at a time when Division classifications did not exist. This is a CRUCIAL point to consider. Before Division classifications, schools just naturally scheduled whoever seemed most appropriate, and strength in a particular sport gravitated naturally to one or another, largely based on geography.

When the three Division system was created in the early ’70s, schools such as Clarkson and St. Lawrence naturally fit in Division III. However, by the same token, it seemed silly to foresake their storied tradition playing against their hockey rivals, who were now Division I — such as the Ivy League schools, Boston College, Providence, etc… The Legislators of the time understood this and allowed schools to “play up.” This was formalized in 1982, with each school granted one men’s and one women’s waiver.

Removing the ability to grant athletic scholarships to these programs would effectively kill them. And forcing them to Division III now seems just as foolish as when the Division classifications were created over 30 years ago. These schools are not the problem, whatever “the problem” is.

While “reining in” Division III athletics might be a noble cause, this particular proposal achieves nothing in that regard. Middlebury president John McCardell, chair of the President’s Council, said recently, “It seems inconsistent with our philosophy and difficult to defend as a practical matter that these schools, and only these schools, have the special privilege of awarding scholarships.”

But saying it’s a “special privilege” completely misunderstands the history. It also implies it somehow unfairly benefits or taints the rest of the athletic program. However, there has yet to be any evidence that this is so. Further, the schools in question already maintain rigorous academic standards, much in line with the Division III philosophy. They are simply upholding a decades-long tradition by “playing up” in one sport.

There is also an issue of fairness. It seems incredibly unfair that a right grandfathered into these institutions 20 years ago, will now be revoked by the whim of 400 schools with absolutely no interest in the issue other than a vague belief that D-III is tainted because 12 athletic programs “play up.”

Not fully knowing the motivation behind this particular part of the legislation, I am left to surmise that the Division III membership simply thought this was just another aspect of bringing across the board philosophical consistency to D-III. And since it only affects 12 out of over 400 schools, they figured there was little harm, and there was no one to stop it.

Hopefully, this letter points out the ways this legislation contradicts history, and is not, per se, inconsistent with Division III philosophies. Reforming Division III athletics is great, but there’s no need to throw the baby out with the bath water.

I urge you to consider the points I have raised, and I am free to discuss them at any time.

Best Regards,

Adam Wodon
Class of 1992

cc: Ken Kutler, Dir. of Athletics