D-III Scholarship Legislation Marches Forward

With the Division III scholarship legislation entering its final phase, the schools negatively affected by the proposal are gearing up for a showdown.

Despite rigorous protest in the preceding months, the NCAA Division III President’s Council has placed the issue on its agenda for the January convention as part of its sweeping Division III reform package. The package includes a number of reforms aimed at getting Division III athletics back in line with its stated goals, with only one of the items drawing any resistance. But that item — a proposal that would prohibit Division III schools that “play up” in one Division I sport from awarding athletic scholarships — has met with rigorous protest from the schools, alumni and Division I sports that will be affected.

If the legislation passes, four storied Division I men’s ice hockey teams will be affected — St. Lawrence, Clarkson, Rensselaer and Colorado College — as well as lacrosse powerhouse Johns Hopkins and others. Under the proposal, scholarships would be phased out by 2008.

Despite the outcry, the Presidents Council decided by a 9-3 vote to keep the item on the agenda. As a result, lobbying efforts have intensified.

“That is going to be an issue that’s going to require a lot of education and discussion,” Johns Hopkins athletic director Tom Calder said to the Baltimore Sun, “and a lot of it will take place before the convention, getting to athletic directors and presidents.”

Those in favor of the proposal argue that Division III schools unfairly benefit from having a Division I scholarship sport. The schools with the D-I sports argue that no evidence exists to support that position, that their status in Division I was granted 20 years ago for sports with long traditions that pre-dated the Division classification system, and that the schools and communities have invested themselves in these programs.

“In good faith we have made long-term investments in facilities and pledged our commitment to our student athletes, coaching staff, and fans,” said Clarkson president Tony Collins. “The case made more than 20 years ago, and accepted by the NCAA, remains intact today for Clarkson University.

“We are disappointed that members of the Council did not recognize the intent of a 1982 waiver for eight schools that had strong traditions, pride and competitive rivalries in one or two sports at the Division I level.”

Part of the problem facing the jeopardized schools is that the vast majority of the 424 Division III schools that will be voting on this legislation, are not affected one way or another, and therefore have no incentive to alter their position. To most schools, the scholarship legislation is just another item in a large reform package.

Middlebury president John McCardell is council president, and has remain steadfast in his support of the legislation.

“What defines Division III is that we do not give scholarships,” McCardell told the Sun. “There was not a compelling case to keep this exception.”

Johns Hopkins, which has been leading the fight to the finish, expressed its disagreement with McCardell in a lengthy statement on its web site.

The waiver was granted in 1982-1983 to recognize the very special situation that exists at a small group of institutions. As a group, the eight schools operate typical Division III programs very much guided by the Division III philosophy. The only significant difference between us and other Division III members is a history and tradition of prominence in one particular sport, generally a sport that has a relatively low national visibility but that is important locally or regionally. Given this history, and the importance of that one traditional sport to each institution, its students, alumni and community, it makes sense for our institutions to continue competing in their traditional sports at the highest competitive level. In other sports, they play in Division III, a status consistent with their institutional philosophies. The waiver is consistent with an underlying principle of the Division III philosophy, which states that “the purpose of the NCAA is to assist its members to develop the basis for consistent, equitable competition while minimizing infringement on the freedom of individual institutions to determine their own special objectives and programs.”

Hopkins maintains that its fellow members in the Division III Centennial Conference, in which it competes in sports other than lacrosse, do not believe Hopkins has an unfair advantage over them. Hopkins also takes exception to the claim that allowing some schools to play up to Division I in some sports, hurts the D-III philosophy.

The eight schools represent less than 2 percent of the entire Division III membership. Together, they offer a total of 13 sport programs at the Division I level. This represents 0.18 percent of the approximately 7,000 sport programs offered by Division III institutions. We believe strongly in the principles of Division III, but we do not believe that an exception — granted in extremely special cases for clear and specific reasons, and affecting fewer than one of every 538 sport programs offered by Division III schools — represents a concern to the future of Division III.

Hopkins says that Division III schools already face restrictions within their D-I sports. For example, they cannot have representation on NCAA committees in the D-I sports, and they cannot share in the revenue of the respective NCAA tournaments.

Though none of the schools have explicitly said so, the possibility of a lawsuit exists on the horizon.

“We will now move forward on all fronts with the other seven schools opposing this proposal,” Collins said, “We will explore all options available to us and leave no stone unturned to find a solution that is in the best interest of our student-athletes and the University.”

Other highlights from Hopkins’ lengthy Frequently Asked Questions section of its web site:

Johns Hopkins’ FAQ about the D-III legislation

Don’t multi-divisional schools have better Division III facilities because of their Division I sports?

Some institutions place a higher priority on athletics than others and build facilities accordingly. There is no evidence that those priorities are dependent on whether or not an institution is multi-divisional. Compare the natatoriums at Middlebury, Franklin and Marshall or Emory to those at Johns Hopkins or RPI. Compare soccer facilities at Emory, Messiah or Misericordia to those at RPI, Clarkson or Johns Hopkins. Compare football facilities at Gettysburg or Mount Union to those at RPI or Colorado College. For a wide variety of reasons (athletics emphasis, professional sports team involvement, alumni support, corporate involvement, etc.), institutions have chosen to develop and maintain a wide range of athletic facilities. An institution does not need to sponsor a Division I program to have quality athletics facilities, nor does sponsoring a Division I sport guarantee that an institution’s Division III sports have better facilities than other Division III programs.

What impact could this legislation have on the communities where our institutions reside?

It is likely that without athletic grants-in-aid, the Division I programs at the eight schools could not remain competitive. Towns such as Canton, N.Y. (St. Lawrence) and Potsdam, N.Y. (Clarkson) rely on competitive Division I hockey and the spectators it attracts to sustain tourism and entertainment-related businesses (restaurants, hotels, etc.). The loss of spectators either because Clarkson and St. Lawrence are not as competitive in Division I or because they move to a Division III schedule could be devastating to the economies of these small towns in upstate New York.

Oneonta, N.Y. (Hartwick and Oneonta State) is known as “Soccer Town USA” due to the rich history and tradition of soccer in that community. The National Soccer Hall of Fame is located in Oneonta specifically for this reason. The loss of competitive Division I soccer in Oneonta could have a negative impact on its tourism economy.

Colorado College hosted the first 10 NCAA hockey championships, beginning in 1948. When the old World Arena (site of those NCAA tourneys) was torn down, members of the community stepped up and provided significant funding for a new facility. The new World Arena operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and currently hosts hundreds of events each year for the community to enjoy. David Palenchar, President and CEO of World Arena stated, “Colorado College hockey is as essential a part of the fabric of this community as Pikes Peak.”

Similarly, Johns Hopkins’ tradition in lacrosse is important to the Baltimore community and its economy. The Lacrosse Hall of Fame and the headquarters of U.S. Lacrosse, the sport’s national governing body, are on the university’s campus. The sport’s World Championships and other significant competitions, including the women’s NCAA Division I national championship, have been held at Johns Hopkins, drawing thousands of visitors to the city. The university was one of the co-organizers of the 2003 NCAA Division I-II-III Men’s Lacrosse Championship weekend, which drew record numbers of fans to Baltimore.

If the Ivy League institutions can compete without scholarships, why can’t the multi-divisional institutions?

In most cases, the multi-divisional institutions compete for the same academically high-caliber student-athlete as the schools in the Ivy League. We are not, however, similarly endowed and are not in a position to commit to be need-blind or to meet 100 percent of every admitted student’s demonstrated financial need. Our aid packages routinely involve loans and unmet need. Not all our admitted students are aided, even if they have need. Our Division I coaches ensure that needy student-athletes will have at least their need met with athletic grant-in-aid. Athletic grants-in-aid remove uncertainty and allow the eight institutions to be competitive in recruiting.

Additionally, the eight intuitions, though all quality colleges and universities, do not have the “brand” reputation of the Ivies. If a student-athlete without need has to choose between a $120,000 tuition bill at one of the private multi- divisional schools, and $120,000 at an Ivy school, they often will choose the Ivy school, based on reputation alone. We cannot compete for that student-athlete without offering an athletic grant-in-aid.

The Ivy League’s strong endowments, financial aid policies and reputation make it possible for them to recruit Division I athletes without athletic grants-in-aid. The multi-divisional institutions need athletic grants-in-aid to compete for student-athletes at the Division I level.

Haven’t times changed to the point where multi-divisional classification isn’t appropriate any longer?

The eight multi-divisional schools have developed their programs and plans in confidence that the NCAA meant what it said in 1983 when it created the exemption for our Division I sports. Over these two decades, we have continued to develop the rich tradition and prominence of the Division I sports on our campuses, in harmony with our thriving Division III sports programs. In some cases, we have made financial commitments to competition venues in our Division I sports, commitments that would be difficult to meet at a lower level of competition.

There remains no data that illustrates we garner a competitive advantage from fielding Division I teams; in fact, there is good data to support the argument that we do not. Our closest athletic rivals support the continuation of the exemption. To the extent that the exemption creates a lack of uniformity across Division III, that lack of uniformity is statistically small and, in practical terms, insignificant. The exemption does little, if anything, to undercut the philosophical underpinnings of Division III. It was granted and continues to exist for good, rational and easily justifiable reasons. There is no compelling reason to repeal it.