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Keep NCAA Division III for those who got there first

Editorial in the January 18, 2008, issue of the Austin American-Statesman.

When I was in high school, achieving the distinction of being “all state” in basketball topped my wish list. A knee injury early in my senior year changed my life. At that moment, I was forced to put athletic competition in perspective. Unfortunately, I think today there exists an athletics “cartel” in America that has made putting athletics into perspective difficult for many of us. By this I mean an official or even unconscious group that controls the price and production of athletic accomplishment and competition. 

In another time, the “cartel” was not an issue in college athletics. Students attended college to receive an education, and competitive sports provided an enjoyable avenue for amateur athletic competition. 

Today, NCAA Division I athletics dominates the university and collegiate athletic scene by constantly focusing our attention on recruiting, developing and coaching athletes to believe that true success in college is gauged by a BCS bowl appearance or by making it to “The Final Four.” The statistics for academic achievement among this most visible and well-known group of athletes is in many cases not very encouraging. For example, a recent study by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida found that 42 percent of the schools playing in 2008 bowl games graduated less than half of their African-American football student-athletes.

Thankfully, the NCAA created a division that recognized that some colleges and universities still put academics first choosing to concentrate on recruiting students who were scholars first and athletes second. “Scholar-athlete” is the term that most national liberal arts colleges use to describe their students who are more interested in graduating than in post-season competition. 

Make no mistake, these young men and women are fierce competitors, but their educational achievements take precedent. After creating Division III for these students several years ago, the NCAA, this week at its annual meeting in Nashville, is debating the creation of Division IV.  

Supposedly, some institutions have been allowed to join Division III who are not as committed to its original purpose as those who conceived of the idea. Presently those institutions who want to keep Division III more of a student-athlete model are being gently encouraged to create Division IV if they can’t embrace those who have joined Division III but do not adhere as seriously to the scholar-athlete model as those who conceived of Division III. 

Those of us who espouse the concept of Division III got here first, and this division was created for us. If some in our division can’t abide by the structured guidelines demanded by a scholar-athlete, then they should leave Division III and be comfortable in a newly created Division IV.  

Maybe the NCAA will give America some hope that as important as athletics are to many of us, they should still be trumped by academics when it comes to our colleges and universities. 

Jake B. Schrum is president of Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.