Right Move To Division III
The Brevard College Board of Directors made the right decision when they decided to move from NCAA Division II to Division III. The reclassification could help the college in several ways.
First, the decision could be beneficial athletically. Brevard College was competitive athletically, particularly in men’s cross-country and women’s soccer, when it was a two–year institution. Once the college became a four-year institution, however, it quickly went from NAIA to NCAA Division II. The jump was simply too much too soon. The college is just not competitive in the South Atlantic Conference (SAC). Most of the college’s teams have losing conference records and few teams make the conference playoffs. This year just three of the college’s teams made the conference playoffs and each one was eliminated in the first round. According to the Echols Athletic Excellence Award Standings, which measures overall athletic success, Brevard College came in a distant last place in the SAC. Wingate led in the standings for 2014-15 with 192 points. The other 10 colleges then scored between 132 and 92 points. Brevard College finished with 52 points.
A major reason Brevard College has struggled in the SAC is not the coaches or the will of the players; it has been the lack of funding to provide enough scholarship money to better players. Head football coach Paul Hamilton noted that the SAC allows 36 full football scholarships, but Brevard College only had the money to provide 18-20, and that money was often divided amongst 40 or 50 players. Head women’s basketball coach Shannon Reid said, “Many would be surprised to know just how underfunded we are compared to our conference foes.”
Athletes play to win. If they cannot win, they want to be competitive. Moving from the SAC to Division III should make Brevard College athletic teams more competitive and make the student-athletes feel better about their athletic endeavors.
The main benefit, however, is that Division III seems to align better with the college’s mission of delivering an experiential, well-rounded liberal arts education. Our understanding is that in Division III, with the exception of some weight training and conditioning, teams cannot practice in the off-season. Thus, football players can take classes that go off-campus for days at a time in the spring. And those who play spring sports can take similar classes in the fall.
The decision also may make the student body more tightly knit. The higher on the athletic competitive rung colleges are, the greater the separation between the “jocks” and everyone else. The former often receive preferential treatment, as has been so meticulously pointed out in the UNC athletics scandal, and that perceived preference can create a schism between the two groups. That seems less likely at a Division III school where everyone is a student first.
All transitions have their adjustment periods and there will be some bumps in the road, some of which may be unforeseen. Some coaches and players who want to compete at a higher level may choose to leave Brevard College. Maybe some of the Division III schools will not field teams in every sport that Brevard College does. Coaches will have to learn the best ways to recruit student-athletes to a Division III college. There may be ways that some schools work around the scholarship limitations in order to attract better athletes.
In reality, all successful colleges evolve. We have seen that in the past 30 years at Brevard College as it has moved from a two-year institution to a four-year college. This is just one more step, a step to emphasize academics while offering students a chance to be athletically competitive. As Reid said, “You will see athletes playing more for the desire to be on a team or to play a sport that they love; however, there will be more of a focus on higher education and great academic programs.”
That is a laudable goal.