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President Tipson Discusses Division III Athletics

This year’s annual meeting of the NCAA made headlines in an unusual way. Attention typically focuses on Division I, the high-profile football and basketball programs that dominate the sports pages and water-cooler conversations. This time, though, the spotlight turned on Division III, institutions like Wittenberg that compete vigorously in intercollegiate athletics without athletic scholarships.

Founded in 1973, Division III committed itself to ensuring that “athletics programs support the institution’s educational mission,” that “athletics participants are not treated differently from other members of the student body,” and that the primary emphasis should be “on the participants rather than the spectators.” Division III colleges and universities, according to their philosophy statement, also “place highest priority on the overall quality of the educational experience and on the successful completion of all students’ academic programs.”

Today’s athletes develop proficiency in a sport far differently than did their parents. By 12 or 13 most athletes have already selected a single sport. Many compete year-round, including on professionally coached club sports teams, which often travel long distances to play at the highest possible level. Once at college, these athletes have invested heavily in their sport, and they quite understandably want to play and practice as often and as hard for as long as they can. Throughout the past 30 years, college teams have gradually started to play more games, over a longer season, with more pre-season practice. Many sports have instituted play and practice in a “non-traditional” season in addition to their regular season. Talk of “creep” is also common as competition in Division III sports slowly appears to resemble Division I.

Division III faculty members regularly express concern about this “creep,” concern that the balance between athletics and the entire undergraduate experience is being compromised by the demands of intercollegiate athletics. Some conferences, including our own NCAC, have even chosen to institute more restrictive limits than those presently allowed by Division III.

But efforts by individual conferences, let alone individual colleges, can go only so far. If the playing field tilts too far against those who try to keep athletics in balance, student-athletes – and their coaches and parents – will conclude that a college lacks competitive commitment. The obvious solution was to look at changing the rules for everyone, to bring all of Division III back to its core values.

A record number of Division III college presidents came to the NCAA meeting prepared to attempt just that. Similar efforts had failed in the past, but this year we came determined. We didn’t win on every point, but we did institute reasonable limits on length of season and practices in the non-traditional season, and we approved a system to monitor adherence to our policy of no athletic scholarships. Taken together, our actions reaffirm our commitment to the principles upon which Division III was founded. As one of the most successful and competitive athletic programs in Division III, Wittenberg lent its voice to these efforts and is proud of their success. – Baird Tipson headline

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In This Issue Around Myers Hollow
Witt World
Tiger Sports
Alumni World
Class Notes
Last Word