Scholarships Will Continue For D-III ‘Play Up’ Schools

After months of handwringing and lobbying, 12 athletic programs at eight schools, including four in men’s ice hockey, received grandfather protection Monday, allowing them to continue granting athletic scholarships.

The vote on the amendment to Proposal 65 was passed at the NCAA Convention in Nashville, 296-107. Proposal 65 itself, which prevents any future schools from playing up and offering athletic scholarships, was passed 304-89.

The proposal had threatened to prevent four of the more storied Division I men’s ice hockey programs — Colorado College, St. Lawrence, Rensselaer and Clarkson, plus Clarkson and St. Lawrence women’s hockey — from awarding athletic scholarships. Each of those schools are Division III institutions that have “played up” into Division I in one sport since the three-division classification was created in the NCAA in 1971. Also part of that group is Johns Hopkins, a perennial power in Division I men’s lacrosse.

“We’re very happy,” said Phil Buttafuoco, commissioner of the ECAC, which had three of its 12 hockey schools affected. “We’re elated that the NCAA membership has acknowledged the rich tradition and history on these campuses.”

Proposal 65, part of a wide-ranging Division III reform package, was advanced as a way of forcing all Division III schools to adhere to Division III principles across the board. The proposal was later amended to say those 12 programs could remain in Division I, but cannot offer athletic scholarships. The proposal was essentially a revocation of a waiver granted by the NCAA in 1982-83, which grandfathered these eight schools at the time.

Proponents of the legislation argued, among other things, that granting scholarships was not part of the principles of Division III, and exceptions should not be made. They also argued that having Division I programs could unfairly benefit the regular D-III programs at those schools.

Detractors immediately called those claims dubious at best. They noted that, for example, Division I athletes at these schools cannot play other sports, and money earned from Division I NCAA tournaments cannot be accepted by these schools. They also urged the Division III membership to consider that these schools all have model programs, with rigorous academic requirements.

“St. Lawrence and the other seven colleges that would have been affected by the waiver revocation do live up to the Division III ideals of broad-based participation,” said St. Lawrence president Dan Sullivan, “and a student development-focused philosophy, and will continue to support Division III principles even with Division I sports among our offerings.”

Rensselaer noted that 20 of its current 27 hockey players made the Dean’s list last semester.

The eight schools quickly banded together, and went on a major lobbying campaign. A public relations firm was hired, and athletic directors and presidents from the schools coordinated efforts, placing personal phone calls to colleagues at all 416 Division III schools.

“This has been an issue we have been passionate about, and I feel the significant margins by which both our amendment and the amended Proposition 65 passed is a tribute to the hard work done by the eight affected schools to inform our fellow Division III members about the issue,” said St. Lawrence athletic director Margie Strait.

“I was assured we would have a good hearing on our amendment when the faculty athletic representatives and student advisory committees stepped forth in our favor. St. Lawrence and the other seven schools owe a debt of gratitude to those schools in our conference, those we compete against in New York State and others across the nation for their support of our cause and we appreciate their assistance.

One school that did not vote for the amendment was Union, a fellow ECAC member to St. Lawrence, Clarkson and Rensselaer. According to Buttafuoco, Union president Roger Hull was torn.

“His collegiality was to support 65-1, but his conscience as a president was that Union should not support 65-1 and support the reform movement,” Buttafuoco said. “That’s totally his decision. I understand his position, and Union College will continue to move forward as a great member of ECAC hockey.”

Union moved its hockey program to Division I in 1991, after the 1982-83 waiver, and therefore, unlike the other D-III schools that play in the ECAC, has never been allowed to grant athletic scholarships. Though Union, in fact, has not seemed interested in doing so anyway; the institution does not give preferential aid to athletes, either.

“That inequity was understood by Union when it decided to move to Division I,” said Buttafuoco.

Most all-sport league members of the eight schools did, however, support the amendment and stand behind their colleagues.

“We are extremely grateful for the support that we received from our partners in Division III,” said Colorado College president Richard Celeste, whose school also competes in Division I women’s soccer. “We were confident that, once the Division III membership was able to study Proposal 65 and the negative effect it would have on our athletic programs, they would agree that the proposed legislation would do nothing to bring our academic mission and athletic participation into greater balance.

“On a personal note, I would like to thank the presidents, athletic directors, faculty athletic representatives and public relations staffs at each of our eight institutions that have worked so hard to inform their Division III peers and gain their support. Their efforts have preserved storied athletic programs that are intimately identified with their colleges and have been run as model programs for the last 50 to 100 years, long before division classifications existed.”

At the convention, the debate was passionate on both sides as the vote neared.

“There were very moving statements on the floor,” Buttafuoco said. “The president of RPI [Shirley Jackson] did a wonderful job introducing amendment 65-1. … The historical and philosophical significance of the programs was a big issue. The waiver back in ’82 and ’83 was granted with good cause and with no harm to others. That was the argument on the floor.

“There were comments to the contrary. Some said scholarships are inconsistent with the core philosophy of D-III.”

Both St. Lawrence men’s coach Joe Marsh and Clarkson coach George Roll had commented in recent weeks that the proposed legislation, and the uncertainty it created, was having a negative affect on recruiting.

“I am very happy to assure all prospective hockey players interested in St. Lawrence’s men’s and women’s teams that we will be maintaining our grant-in-aid scholarships in those sports,” said Strait, “and we look forward to a continuation of a tradition of successful competition on the Division I by both the men’s and women’s programs.”

Approximately 25 percent of Division III school presidents personally attended the convention, a much higher percentage than usual.

Oneonta, Rutgers-Newark and Hartwick were the other three D-III schools with D-I programs that would have been affected.

“This is the culmination of five months of hard work by Dr. Jackson, our
entire athletics department, the administration, our alumni, and countless other supporters who stood with us and helped tell our story,” said Ken Ralph, athletic director at RPI.

Other Legislation

As was mentioned, Proposal 65 was just a piece of a wide-ranging set of legislation.

Among the others that were voted on:

Proposal 57 … Restricts the use of redshirts to medical and legitimate academic reasons. Passed.

Proposal 59 … Allows student athletes to go directly to a coach at another program and ask to transfer. Passed.

Proposal 60 … Shortened the playing season by 10 percent. For D-III ice hockey, would have meant the reduction in games from 26 to 23. Rejected, 151-262.

Proposal 61 … Shortens the playing season in winter sports by two weeks, to 19. Passed, 238-180.

Proposal 61 will not have a wide effect on ice hockey. Most conference already restrict their season to 19 weeks. Only the ECAC West, SUNYAC, NCHA and MCHA currently allow longer seasons.

Jayson Moy, Juan Martinez, Chris Lerch, Scott Biggar also contributed to this report.