By Olivia Gentry
What sets Division III athletics apart from the rest of the NCAA world?
One of the biggest differences is that Division III colleges and universities do not offer athletic scholarships – meaning that the athletes playing at these institutions are continuing their athletic careers based on their love for the sport. But why is there so much stigma and criticism surrounding the choice to go Division III?
One of the biggest reasons for this criticism is that, with the cost of college on the rise, the lack of athletic scholarships available makes the idea of playing Division III sports less attractive to recruits. This is especially true because countless athletes use sports scholarships as a pipeline to receiving a degree from accredited universities, which isn’t possible at Division III institutions.
Another reason for recruits to turn away Division III offers is the false concept that Division III athletics aren’t as competitive as those conferences at the Division I and II levels. This is simply not the case. The Division III level is filled with some of the greatest high school performers who received All-State or All District awards in their high school careers. The Division III level also offers a greater opportunity for underclassmen to accumulate some early statistics and gain experience in a collegiate game. Division III athletics offers competitive play in addition to an increased emphasis on education.
There are around 450 Division III member schools, making it the National College Athletic Association’s largest division. Considering that most Division III institutions settle around 3,000 total students, this creates a concentrated student-to-faculty ratio, where students are more able to closely connect and communicate with their professors. In 2019, the NCAA reported that student athletes at Division III institutions graduated at a higher rate than the rest of the student body.
Samantha Paul, a junior triple jumper on the Springfield College track and field team, says that competition is “manageable enough alongside my academics so I can focus on my passions inside and outside of the classroom.” Paul transferred from a Division I program to Springfield College and her experience at a Division III institution is similar to so many other D-III student athletes. In an interview for The Oval Magazine in 2019, Emily Bryson, a track and field athlete at Brandeis University, said that “Division III athletes can see just as much growth as all other athletes, and along the way can have the opportunity to be well rounded student-athletes and leaders.”
The Division III level definitely doesn’t include some of the flashy elements that come with the hype of Division I or II athletics. D-III student-athletes are not receiving multiple “Nike Christmases” like some do at the Division I level, but they are still eligible for NIL deals and should still be considered for these deals.
Other than the previously mentioned lack of athletic scholarship money, being a Division III athlete also has some drawbacks – the biggest one being that Division III athletic programs do not receive the same amount of public coverage in comparison to their Division I and II institutions. Their games are not very likely to be covered by ESPN or under the sports section of Hulu.
Another drawback is the lack of diversity seen across the Division III demographics. For example, Eric J. Klimowicz at Gettysburg College found a study that African-Americans only make up 12.2% of the Division III student athlete population, compared to the 22.3% at the Division I and 20.4% at the Division II level. This disparity is largely in part because a majority of the Division III institutions are Predominantly White Institutions, or PWIs. However, as made relevant by the previous statistics, this disparity is prevalent across all the NCAA levels.
Overall the Division III level is one of the largest levels of NCAA athletics, but it isn’t treated as the scope that it should be. The stigma around Division III is one that needs to disappear. When the potential of the level is finally uncovered on a national scale, more athletes will probably choose the NCAA’s hidden treasure.
Photo by Braedan Shea/The Student