Thursday, January 25, 2007

Division III a Good Place to Be

By Mike DiMauro, New London Day
Published on 1/24/2007 in Sports » Sports Columns

We've all seen it, the public service announcement that airs frequently during the NCAA Tournament. It's the NCAA's little reminder that as you watch this billion dollar production, we must remember that “there are more than 380,000 student-athletes at more than 1,000 member colleges and universities and most will go pro in something other than sports.”

Two things that must be established before we proceed:

• Yes, the NCAA comes off somewhere between pigheaded (no football playoff system) and detestable (allowing TV to start tournament games after 10 p.m.) in most cases. But the bit about how most student-athletes use sports as a means to a better education is no less true.

• Yes, there's an inherent allure to Division I sports, especially the ones we watch on television.
But last week, our corner of the world provided a perfect illustration about the competitiveness and the meaning of college athletics at lower levels, every bit as important to the participants as the big time is to the big timers.

There was a college basketball game at Coast Guard last Monday, Coast Guard and Connecticut College. Conn has this forward named Charles Stone, who is as good as anyone else who has ever played at Conn, members of Glen Miller's tournament teams included. Coast Guard has this little guard named Al Sowers, who looks better suited to perhaps write for the yearbook than knife through opposing defenses.

The quality of play wasn't surprising to anyone familiar with Division III basketball. But I had this thought roll through the old noggin repeatedly:

Do you know how many parents of basketball players in the Eastern Connecticut Conference think their kid is too good for Division III?

Do you know how many players around here could have honestly competed in that game?

You wouldn't need all your fingers to count them.

There was a college basketball game in Milton, Mass., last Thursday, Wentworth and Gordon. Wentworth has a pair of Fitch grads, Gil Ward and Todd Doyle, who are part of quite an impressive reclamation project. From 4-21 two years ago, Wentworth has a chance to win its regular season conference title. The Leopards hadn't beaten Gordon since what felt like the year the American League went to the designated hitter.

They finally did. It was 76-63 in an entertaining one hour, 40 minutes, not ruined by TV timeouts, intrusive background noise and cheerleaders wearing less than beach patrons.

The quality of play wasn't surprising to those of us familiar with Division III basketball. But I had this thought roll through the old noggin repeatedly:

Do you know how many parents of basketball players in the Eastern Connecticut Conference think their kid is too good for Division III?

Do you know how many players around here could have honestly competed in that game?

You wouldn't need all your fingers to count them.

Doyle and Ward, like Sowers and Stone, couldn't be happier where they are. They are playing the most competitive basketball of their lives. They all have the same dream at the moment: get hot, win the conference title and make the NCAA Tournament.

Just ask anyone on the Conn teams of the late 90s with Miller and Kevin Jaskiewicz coaching them. The best atmosphere in the history of New London sports came at Luce Field House in those days when 1,200 students painted their faces and roared and howled and chanted, just the way you see it on television.

Here's the best part: Doyle, Ward, Stone and Sowers will earn college degrees that will get them virtually any jobs they want, except playing for the Celtics. They are the NCAA commercial, among the 380,000 who will go pro in something other than sports.

This is not intended to be one of those “you don't know what you're missing” laments about why crowds for local sporting events aren't as big as they used to be. This is merely a message for all Division III athletes and especially their parents, that there is ample nobility and significance to the games.

Just because you can't see them on television doesn't mean they mean less. They still count.

This is the opinion of Day assistant sports editor Mike DiMauro. He may be reached at or 701-4391. 

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

2007 NCAA Convention Recap

Here is a quick recap of the 2007 NCAA Convention, courtesy of the Chronicle of Higher Education. I will provide a more detailed review of our four days in Orlando in the next few days.

Steve Ulrich
Executive Director, Centennial Conference

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Controversial Division III Proposals Could Be Harbinger For Changes At All 3 NCAA Levels


Orlando, Fla. -- Two of the biggest stories in college sports in the past year happened at universities that normally do not attract the attention that major-college programs do. During last season's NCAA men's college-basketball tournament, George Mason University made an improbable run to the Final Four. Earlier this month, Boise State University upset the University of Oklahoma, a perennial football powerhouse, in a Bowl Championship Series game.

Perhaps it was fitting, then, that on Monday, the last day of the NCAA Convention here, Division III colleges and universities -- the true little guys of college sports -- took center stage.

Division III members debated two controversial measures: one to cap membership, the other to limit the use of male practice players in women's sports.

Members voted to table both proposals, but each measure appears to have legs, both at the Division III level and beyond. Members of Division I and II are also discussing growth issues and whether women's teams should limit the use of male practice players.

In other action on Monday, the National Collegiate Athletic Association voted to:

• Adopt the final "historical" penalties for teams that repeatedly underperform academically. Those penalties will include practice limitations and a ban on postseason play. NCAA officials estimate that, in the spring of 2008, as many as 6 percent of programs -- including up to 20 percent of men's basketball teams -- could lose scholarships under other penalties that are already in place. Last year, just 2 percent of teams lost scholarships.

• Allow Canadian colleges and universities to be considered for NCAA membership. Two Canadian universities have inquired about joining the NCAA.

The Division III proposal to cap membership, introduced by members of the North Coast Athletic Conference, was withdrawn by conference members on Monday, in part to allow a new NCAA working group, made up of individuals from all three NCAA levels, to explore the possibility of creating a fourth NCAA division or a Division III subdivision.

The NCAA has not changed its membership structure since 1973. Many athletics officials believe the association needs to add another division to create more competitive equity across college sports.

"Division III is too large: too unwieldy to be effective, too big to be fair," Douglas C. Bennett, president of Earlham College and a North Coast conference member, told more than 400 fellow Division III members during a legislative session on Monday. He pointed out that because of the division's size, too few teams have access to postseason opportunities, and said "persistent, irresolvable disagreements about philosophy" have proven that the division has too many different kinds of institutions under one umbrella.

A change to the NCAA's structure would most likely have implications for all three divisions, Dan Dutcher, the NCAA's vice president for Division III, said in an interview on Monday.

Among the chief concerns: how to pay for a new membership level. Athletics officials are considering several ways -- raising dues for all NCAA institutions, increasing dues only for those colleges and universities that join a new division, and reallocating revenue from the existing associationwide budget.

Practice-Player Limits
Division III is the only level to have considered formal legislation limiting the use of male practice players on women's teams, but members of all three divisions have discussed the topic in the past year.

On Monday, Division III members recommended further review of the issue, and 15 minutes of lively debate suggested there is a wide spectrum of opinions on the subject.

Jennifer Warmack-Chipman, an assistant director of athletics at Muhlenberg College and a member of the NCAA's Committee on Women's Athletics, told attendees that the committee opposes the use of male practice players, a strategy many women's programs use to improve the skills of top female players. (Teams often bring in men who played in high school who are bigger and faster than second-string women's players.)

The committee believes that the approach impedes female participation, Ms. Warmack-Chipman said, and "reinforces the implied notion of male pre-eminence."

She urged members to ban the practice, saying, "Any action that threatens the quality of participation opportunities for women is a large step backwards."

Many athletes supported the measure, which would restrict teams to using a limited number of male practice players for no more than one practice a week in their traditional season.

"This is not only an equity issue," said Doug Tima, a senior who plays football at Otterbein College and is vice chair of the Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. "But we have to ask, Are we doing this for the rights of student-athletes or for competitive advantage?"

Several people, however, supported the continued use of male practice players. Timothy Shea, athletics director at Salem State College, said he was against any institutional limits.

"We oppose any intrusion into the coach's classroom," he said. If members passed this legislation, he said, "how long before we mandate playing time?"

Representatives from all three divisions plan to continue reviewing the issue in coming months.