Today, amateurism in collegiate athletics only truly exists at the Division III level. It is also where the title of student-athlete is applied in its purest form. The Division III level was created by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in 1973 to emphasize the academic, athletic and social experiences for student participants. The purpose of Division III athletics according to the 2013-2014 NCAA Division III manual is that:
“Colleges and universities in Division III place highest priority on the overall quality of the educational experience and on the successful completion of all students’ academic programs. They seek to establish and maintain an environment in which a student-athlete’s activities are conducted as an integral part of the student-athlete’s education experience, and in which coaches play a significant role as educators. They also seek to establish and maintain an environment that values cultural diversity and gender equity among their student-athletes and athletics staff.”
The emphasis on the academic and social aspects of a student’s career allows for the true exemplification of a “student-athlete”. This does not mean, however, that the athletic programs in Division III shouldn’t strive to be competitive and successful at the national level. It also doesn’t mean that they have to sacrifice academic rigor to attain athletic success.
Two conferences serve as great models for other Division III programs to follow: the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) and the University Athletic Association (UAA). These conferences contain some of the most prestigious national and liberal arts universities in the world such as Williams College, Amherst College, Tufts University, Washington University and the University of Chicago. They have nationally ranked academic programs as well as nationally ranked programs in Division III athletics.
Every year, the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) awards its Director’s Cup to the colleges and universities in the U.S. with the most success in collegiate athletics. The top three schools in the cup standings for last year in Division III were all extremely impressive academic institutions: Williams, Johns Hopkins University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
For UD’s Division III program to achieve success, we do not have to sacrifice academic rigor for on-field success. On the contrary, most athletes are attracted to Division III schools primarily because of their academic standings. Smaller institutions such as UD need to support the growth of their athletic programs in order to receive greater, more diverse and impressive applicant pools that can yield both academic and athletic success.
Accomplishing this feat will require care and dedication but, as is shown by schools such as Williams and Tufts, it is clearly not impossible. The ultimate goal — to become a university where students can grow academically, athletically, spiritually and socially — is challenging but obtainable. That is the model of a well-rounded, Division III liberal arts college, and that is where UD should be headed.