SAN ANTONIO – They like things big in Texas, so it’s no surprise that the NCAA’s largest division felt right at home in the Lone Star State on June 2. Division III hosted the third of its spring town hall forums in San Antonio, as commissioners, athletics directors and other administrators came together to discuss membership growth in the division.
Held in conjunction with the NCAA’s Regional Rules Seminar, the San Antonio town hall was similar in format to those held in Indianapolis and Boston last month. Attendees received a briefing on results from Division III’s recent membership survey and roundtable discussions that took place at the 2008 NCAA Convention in Nashville before engaging in conversation about membership growth moving forward.
Early in the forum, administrators talked about the branding of Division III. While the overall consensus was that everyone associated with the division is committed to its nonscholarship philosophy, representatives had difficulty pinning down other aspects of Division III that institutions had in common.
“We’re so diverse, I’m not sure we know what we’re about,” said Denison Director of Athletics Larry Scheiderer. “We all individually have some ideas but we’re a little scared of sharing them.”
Earlier this spring, results from a Division III membership survey signified the end to discussions about whether to split or subdivide the division. The diversity of the division, however, has made it difficult to brand it to the outside world. NCAA Division III Vice President Dan Dutcher was encouraged by the discussion and says the commitment from the membership is apparent.
“I came away from all three forums with a sense that folks are reaffirming their place in Division III. They have a desire to better articulate the fundamental principles that lead the division,” Dutcher said. “There’s an opportunity to better communicate those principles both inside and outside the division.”
Northern Athletics Conference Commissioner Steve Larson suggested that Division III should promote its nonscholarship status to the fullest, as it represents the NCAA’s last group of “pure amateurs.”
“We are truly the division about student-athletes. We’re the last standing group of true amateurs,” Larson said. “That’s one of the biggest common bonds we have. The question is, how do we promote that without being derogatory to Divisions I and II?”
In addition to the branding discussion, the Division III membership talked about the economic downturn and its impact on athletics budgets. With gas prices exceeding $4 per gallon in many areas of the country, administrators acknowledged that programs may soon shy away from scheduling the maximum number of contests each season to save on costs.
Sul Ross State Director of Athletics Kay Whitley said that the economic situation would almost assuredly have an impact on Division III.
“We’ll see an impact on scheduling quite a bit,” Whitley said.
Dutcher facilitated a discussion about NCAA membership dues and tried to gauge whether Division III institutions would be willing to augment their current payments after going 25 years without an increase. Presently, schools pay an annual fee of $900 to belong to the Association.
“All three meetings showed that members would be willing to consider an increase if it’s necessary, especially if they were sure that the increase would be used to support Division III programs and services,” Dutcher said. “Right now, $900 is an incredible bargain given the return on investment.”
While Division III was resolute in its desire to remain intact, the issues that began the initial membership discussion two years ago haven’t vanished. Dutcher was encouraged by the town forums and believes the division could use the format again in the future.
“I was pleased with the attendance and the participation. The comments we received did represent the diversity of viewpoints that exist within the division,” Dutcher said. “But I also think it reflects the fundamental commitment our membership has to Division III and its philosophy. There’s a place for this kind of format and dialogue when it comes to addressing key issues that impact the division.”
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