INDIANAPOLIS--- NCAA Division III today begins its biggest compliance initiative ever – collecting and analyzing financial aid data of its member institutions.
Friday, July 1, is the first day of a three-month reporting period in which all Division III institutions will be required for the first time to provide financial aid information to the NCAA – focusing this year on student-athletes who entered school in 2004-05.
The annual reporting program supports one of Division III's bedrock principles: student-athletes should be treated like all other students in the awarding of financial aid.
"The last two years really have been a re-examination of the definition of Division III,” said Travis Feezell, director of athletics at Whitman College and a member of the Division III Management Council. “One of the main principles is that of financial aid; no financial aid will hinge upon athletic talent.”
"If we really believe in that principle, then we needed to create a tool or process to self-assess adherence to that principle,” Feezell added.
About 85 percent of Division III institutions voted to do just that at the 2004 Convention, clearing the way to establish a method for ensuring that schools adhere to the philosophy not only in theory, but in practice.
The reporting program does not attempt to compare Division III schools with each other in how they grant financial aid, but statistically analyzes whether student-athletes at a particular institution receive aid at a level comparable to other students at that school.
Basically, if student-athletes are found in the reporting process to be receiving 4 percent more in aid than comparable students at an institution – a standard approved by the Division III Presidents and Management Councils – it will trigger a review of reasons why that is happening. If the variance isn't readily explainable by specific data submitted in the institution's electronic report, the Division III Financial Aid Committee may ask that institution to provide additional information. In cases of persistent or extreme variance, that review ultimately could lead to enforcement proceedings against institutions for failing to comply with financial aid legislation.
Financial Aid Committee members and others who have been involved in implementing the program say the process will be more valuable as a self-assessment tool than as an enforcement measure.
"The process, I believe, needs to have some teeth, and therefore needs an enforcement mechanism, or maybe a change mechanism is a better way to put it,” said Feezell, who serves as the Management Council's representative on the Financial Aid Committee. “But I'd rather focus on the previous three quarters (of the reporting process) than that last enforcement piece,” he added.
Institutions participating in the program this year will receive a report by December 31 indicating whether the school awards financial aid within the acceptable variance, whether it exceeds the 4 percent threshold but no additional justification is required, or requesting justification of a variance exceeding the threshold (the latter group will have until February 1, 2006, to respond).
The report only addresses circumstances at that particular institution. There is no effort or intent to compare one school with another. But it provides many schools the opportunity to learn something about the ways in which they award financial aid.
As this unprecedented Division III effort gets underway, Feezell acknowledges there may be questions about how well the program may work -- especially when all 422 institutions begin compiling, reporting and, in some cases, justifying data.
But he believes there are reasons to be confident that the program ultimately will succeed in its objective in helping ensure that student-athletes receive aid comparable to that received by other students.
"This was approved by the membership, so it's clearly something the membership wanted,” Feezell said. “The other rationale for confidence is that this has been thoroughly vetted; it's gone through an early pilot process and review of the statistical model, then through another pilot process with a little bit more than half of the Division III membership looking at it, and there have been multiple conversations by the Financial Aid Committee and experts in the field.”
"The confidence level should be high, because this has been a thorough two-year process.”