The Division III Presidents Council unambiguously dedicated itself Thursday to an “identity initiative” to better define the division’s distinctive approach to intercollegiate athletics and equip it to tell its story more effectively.
The Council devoted most of its spring meeting to discussing the initiative, which actually began several weeks ago with the approval of Division III Presidents and Management Council officers but now officially is underway with the presidents’ involvement.
Based on the Division III Administrative Committee’s action in February, the effort already has progressed through more than 60 telephone and on-campus interviews conducted by a consultant. The consultant talked with presidents representing various types of institutions, as well as athletics administrators, student-athletes, conference commissioners, coaches and faculty.
Many more individuals at Division III institutions and conferences soon will have opportunities to participate in the initiative through an Internet-based survey that will explore themes identified through this week’s Council discussions and by the consultant’s interviews.
Presidents Council Chair Paul Trible of Christopher Newport, who pledged during the January Convention that Division III would pursue such a project, said the effort is a natural progression from the desire expressed by member institutions during the recent restructuring debate to stay together and conduct athletics under shared principles.
“Over the last several years, there’s been a great deal of discussion about who we are, what we value and what we want to become,” he said. “The membership spoke loud and clear and said, we believe in Division III, we cherish its principles, and let’s keep things as they are.
“The purpose of this identity initiative is to build on those discussions and focus on the positives of Division III. There is far more that unites us than divides us. We need to celebrate our success and talk about the values that make Division III distinctive and important – important to our schools, to our student-athletes, and to the communities and country that we serve.”
Council members supported an initiative that first will seek to confirm a shared understanding of what the division stands for, then propose a strategy for communicating those beliefs.
Consultant Jeff Jacobs, who has worked with a variety of corporations as well as with the NCAA on branding and identity efforts (including the project that resulted in the “most student-athletes will go pro in something in other than sports” campaign), reported to Council members on interviews in which he sought views on the division’s student-athlete experience and how the Division III philosophy is perceived.
“I wanted to understand, as in-depth as possible, the student-athlete experience in Division III,” he told Council members. “I felt that if we seek to understand the student-athlete experience, we can understand what Division III stands for.”
He said that Division III constituents – from presidents to student-athletes – were “very consistent” in describing that experience.
The challenge, he suggested, is effectively explaining that experience in an environment − shaped by factors ranging from parents’ expectations to media coverage of sports − that interviewees said increasingly emphasizes athletics at the expense of other pursuits.
The resulting Council discussion, along with thoughts and ideas obtained from interviewees, will help shape further research involving a wide spectrum of Division III stakeholders – a process that Trible suggested will move along quickly this year.
“We’re moving forward thoughtfully but with a real bias toward action,” he said. “We have retained the services of a nationally respected consultant to help us identify the qualities that make Division III significant and successful. Over the course of the summer, a wide range of discussions will take place, both face to face and over the Internet, to give the many constituencies of our division an opportunity to speak out and share their thoughts and ideas.
“Based on all those findings, and working with the NCAA staff, the Presidents Council in August will review a strategic communications platform. The purpose of that platform is to guide and instruct the important decisions that we make in the future – including how we tell our story. We have a great story to tell, and that story must be told more powerfully and persuasively.”
Trible expects to be able to present details and objectives of that program at next January’s NCAA Convention.
“The purpose of all this is to inform and inspire those efforts in the months ahead to celebrate our successes and tell our story,” he said. “The first evidence of what all this will mean will be at the January Convention, when we not only will share with our colleagues all that we’ve learned – over many years – but also share a first effort at telling the story.”
After the online survey, information from the initiative will be shared with various groups this summer, including the Management Council, the Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and the Division III Presidents and Chancellors Advisory Group. The Presidents Council expects to receive recommendations on how to proceed with the initiative at its August meeting.
© 2010 The National Collegiate Athletic Association