By Catherine Guiles
Medill News Service
Feb 27, 2008
Thirty-five years after creating the nonscholarship Division III, the National Collegiate Athletic Association is surveying division members about adding a fourth division, citing rapid growth and policy disputes.
But athletic directors at several Chicago area Division III colleges say the proposal is unnecessary.
“Our position has been to retain Division III identity and framework,” said Tony Ladd, athletic director at Wheaton College. “The more institutions involved in Division III, the better it is for us institutionally.”
The NCAA mailed surveys this month to the more than 440 members of Division III. Each is asked to give one official response based on meetings with administrators, athletics staff, student-athletes and others. The surveys are due in March, and the Division III “working group,” which has recommended a fourth division, will review the results.
“It’s really an attempt to ask, ‘Will our current structure be the best way to accommodate growth?’” said Dan Dutcher, the NCAA’s vice president for Division III. “Ultimately the membership is going to determine that.”
Division III, the NCAA’s largest, could contain nearly 480 schools by 2020, officials said. Division I has approximately 340 members, while Division II has approximately 290.
The newer members of Division III tend to have fewer students and sponsor fewer sports than the older ones, Dutcher said.
Jennifer Kearns, associate director of public and media relations for the NCAA, said schools also split on how many sports to offer and how to get athletes more integrated into campus life.
To be in Division III, a college must field five sports for men and five for women, with each gender getting two team sports and being represented in all playing seasons.
Schools cannot offer athletic scholarships, but they can recruit students to play sports. Student-athletes are eligible for regular financial aid.
The University of Chicago is working on its response, said Tom Weingartner, director of athletics. But his personal view was, “Whatever problems we have aren’t so great that they require” adding a fourth division.
At Concordia University in River Forest, athletic director Peter Gnan said the NCAA needed to give schools more information about what would happen under the proposed changes.
“It’s not really been to the point that we know what we’re making a decision on,” Gnan said.
Kearns said criteria for a new division haven’t been decided, but “schools aren’t going to be forced to join one or the other.”
Dutcher said that like Division III, a fourth division “would not include the opportunity for athletic scholarships.”
Concordia joined the NCAA 30 years ago after belonging to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, a network of about 300 schools nationwide.
“The other schools in the area were all going to Division III,” Gnan said, so Concordia moved to keep alliances and rivalries going.
The University of Chicago and Wheaton have belonged to Division III since it began in 1973.
The greater culture doesn’t understand Division III sports, Ladd said, but campuses benefit.
“The students who come to Wheaton College come here for a great education and a competitive athletic program,” he said. “It’s the best of both worlds.”
Who’s in Division III locally?
The following Chicago area colleges and universities compete in Division III:
– Aurora University, Aurora
– Benedictine University, Lisle
– Concordia University, River Forest
– Dominican University, River Forest
– Elmhurst College, Elmhurst
– Lake Forest College, Lake Forest
– North Central College, Naperville
– North Park University, Chicago
– University of Chicago, Chicago
– Wheaton College, Wheaton