Friday, March 7, 2014
By Steve Solloway firstname.lastname@example.org
Forty years ago this summer the NCAA remade itself. No longer would its member schools belong to a university division or a college division for competitive purposes. Instead, the very generic Division I, II and III classifications were created.
If there was a 40th anniversary celebration of the restructuring, very few paid attention. Even in Maine, where Division III schools outnumber the Division I University of Maine by more than 10 to 1, there's been little reaction. Forty years in today's world is a long time ago.
"I know exactly what I was doing 40 years ago," said Al Bean, the athletic director at the University of Southern Maine. "I was enrolling at USM and getting ready to play my first fall baseball."
After graduating in 1977 he returned to campus to become an assistant baseball coach and sports information director. Bean has been the USM AD for 21 years, which makes him the senior person among ADs on Maine campuses.
He remembers when several of Maine's small colleges held dual affiliations in the NCAA and the National Association of Interscholastic Athletics (NAIA). Those schools had to decide whether they would align with the NCAA or the NAIA when the postseason tournaments began.
"The NAIA guidelines had fewer restrictions," said Bean. "We could play more games, for instance."
The NCAA did bring more rules to campus but also established a stronger student-athlete identity. Division III schools cannot offer athletic scholarships to their students, for instance. That separated Division III member schools from Division II schools, who can give athletic scholarships, but about a third fewer than Division I schools.
"Some people will tell you Division III is the conscience of the NCAA," said Bean. "You take that with a grain of salt. We like to think our students are here for the whole college experience. Division I student athletes make a very serious commitment to their sport to get that scholarship and find out they have no time for anything else."
Forty years later the impact of the realignment is more philosophical, more identity driven.
"The model is very solid," said Dan Dutcher, NCAA vice president for Division III. "It's a unique model. So much attention is paid to Division I, but 40 percent of our member schools are Division III where student-athletes are treated like other students."
Dutcher is a Biddeford native and a graduate of Biddeford High and the University of Notre Dame. He has worked for decades at NCAA headquarters, now in Indianapolis, but hasn't forgotten small-town Maine with his preponderance of Division III schools.
The 40th anniversary is slipping by unnoticed, but that may be due to the lack of controversy at the Division III level. "Some folks have suggested we (Division III) had grown so large we should look at sub-dividing," said Dutcher. "But over 80 percent (of the 422 Division III schools) said they wanted to stay together."
The Division I ranks hold 351 schools; Division II has 311.
Elena Crosley, a 2013 graduate, is one of nine finalists and one of three from Division III for the NCAA's Woman of the Year Award. Crosley (St. Louis) played field hockey and was a two-year starter on defense. She played on the 2010 national championship team. She won the team's Unsung Hero Award in 2012 and was recognized by the New England Small College Athletic Conference for her sportsmanship.
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