One of the more interesting conversations going on among local sports fans is centered on recent reports that Birmingham Southern College is considering dropping down from Division I to Division III within the NCAA. There are many that feel as though it is a step down by leaving the ranks of the occasional television coverage to compete with “less worthy” schools. Sunday’s Birmingham News even contained an opinion piece in which voiced these concerns and others.
One that is not affiliated with the school on a day to day basis (such as myself) needs to look at the requirements of Division I, II & III in relation to the mission statement of Birmingham-Southern College before passing judgment on the proposal being made to the college’s board. A school that is ranked among the top 66 liberal arts schools in the nation is probably going to be more concerned about the academic standards that it has set more than the level of competition of the teams that represent it on the field. They have every right to. It’s the academics that advertise this school to prospective students.
I have a problem with the notion that a move to Division III is a drop down in caliber in terms of both athletes and coaching staff. While the college that I attended has recently returned to NAIA in order to provide greater ease of scheduling (among other reasons), I played at the Savannah College of Art and Design while we were a Division III independent (baseball, 1993-4). Some of the schools that you “probably haven’t heard of” that we played included Emory University, John Hopkins University, Carnegie Mellon University, MIT and NYU. I have a feeling that although the programs boast great teams, you have not heard of them but still know of the contributions that these institutions make to our society. This is because in part if you look at their mission statements, the focus is on the nurturing of their students and providing a well-rounded experience. By funding the athletics department similar to other departments at the college, they are providing that focus for these student-athletes. I’ve always enjoyed the fact that the word student comes first in that phrase.
Just because a school is in Division III does not mean that they cannot play D-I or D-II schools during their season. It also does not mean that the representation of the school is of a lower standard. The coaching staff at SCAD has included people including former Red Sox pitcher Luis Tiant and former Michigan standout and New York Knick Cazzie Russell. Russell is now preparing to coach the Bees for a tenth season this fall, having led the squad into the NCAA D-III tournament three years in a row. Tiant is no longer with the school but had the honor of coaching the baseball team in 2000 they ended the 46 game winning streak of D-I school Savannah State University, preventing them from tying for the record for most consecutive wins with Oklahoma State. There are several teammates of mine and other former student athletes that are doing quite well with their careers after playing, and a few of them were even drafted by professional teams. The quality of play at a D-III school is just as high as any D-I or D-II. There are some students that even choose to go to a D-III because of the focus on academics, knowing it will be tougher to afford that tuition.
The issue being raised by current student-athletes especially those that are preparing to attend this coming fall and those first and second year students is one of greater concern. One would hope that the college’s board would take the students’ decision making process into consideration. I would argue that it would be possible for some of these student athletes to receive academic based scholarship support due to the high grades I assume they must maintain to keep their current athletic based scholarships after they are no longer allowed to receive them. It may even be possible to consider shifting to D-II instead of D-III, though D-III allows for the focus on academics that it appears the faculty and board want to maintain.
For those stumbling upon this post, I’d also direct you over here, courtesy of Collegeanduniversity.net where there is an interesting article about some myths about the various NCAA divisions. I’d also enjoy hearing your thoughts on what is a very interesting debate. I’d really appreciate it if you looked at the facts too before telling me I’m crazy.