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August 8, 2003 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

What the )!@#%*?

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

I write this column knowing full well it will have no impact. Not that I have any delusions of grandeur about other columns. But with this one in particular, it's clear that no one with any decision-making authority will read it, which is the crux of the problem here.

I write it anyway with the 2 percent chance it will get into someone's hands that matter.

I write in reference to one of the most asinine pieces of legislation I've ever witnessed in almost 25 years of following college sports; the proposal — already approved by the Division III President's Council — to eliminate the ability of Division III schools that play a Division I sport, to grant athletic scholarships in that sport.

In other words, if this passes the full Division III membership at the January convention, Colorado College, St. Lawrence, Clarkson and Rensselaer — Division III schools that use their one-sport "play up" waiver to participate in Division I men's ice hockey — will not be allowed to grant athletic scholarships anymore.

I need not mention how this will harm those programs. Rich, storied, historical programs.

And we — and THEY — are completely powerless to stop it. Why? Because it affects less than a dozen D-III schools all together, and there are over 400 D-III schools that will vote on it, with no incentive to have any sympathy of the plight. After all, it got this far. Division I schools — against whom these storied programs have played for decades — will have no say in the matter.

This insanity is part of a sweeping Division III reform package, debated now for over two years. All of the other measures passed unanimously by the President's Council. Only this D-III/D-I scholarship idea was given much debate, though it still passed.

Somewhere, buried deep within this morass, is a noble idea — to make sure Division III athletics remains true to its original aim, its so-called "philosophical integrity," that athletics at D-III schools need to be funded and act the same way as the rest of the school. A number of Division III schools believe that too many of its bretheren are placing too much emphasis on athletics. In particular, some schools load up on one sport, to the detriment of their others sports — or so it is said. Their practices, they say, have strayed from their philosophies.

In fact, if these reforms don't get done, some Division III schools have considered creating a Division IV, apparently with the intention of creating a level of play where winning is frowned upon and everyone can share crumb cakes and juice boxes together after the games.

Overall, this legislation smells of being led by school presidents that really don't want their athletic program, but feel forced to have it. So they make a half-hearted effort at it.

For Clarkson, it was never in the slightest about flaunting their D-I-ness to the benefit of their D-III sports. It is, and always has been, about simply upholding the tradition and rivalries of their hockey program.

Don't misunderstand me; I am nowhere close to a "win at all costs" mentality. All I know is, my daddy once told me, "Son, if you do something, you do it well or don't do it at all." Period. Or at least try really hard.

I went to Ithaca College. The college emphasized athletics, and with the utmost of integrity, had/has one of the top overall D-III athletic programs. It also has one of the best music schools, one of the best undergraduate television/radio departments, one of the best physical therapy programs, and one of the best theater departments. And it has nice athletic facilities, with a professional sports information department.

The school understands that when you do something, you do it right, no matter if it's academics, athletics, or the back-to-school barbeque.

I spent many years as a Division III football broadcaster, and saw a lot schools. Invariably, the teams that were awful were also the teams that played in awful facilities, with a press box that was falling down, with a sports information person that wore shorts and a t-shirt, and was lucky if they knew how to keep stats.

It's all part of the package. Everything you do reflects upon your institution as a whole.

Ultimately, why is this particular legislation — about disallowing scholarships for play-up programs — asinine? Because it does nothing to prevent the kinds of abuses they are concerned about. It does nothing to reign in the Mount Union football program, or the Rowan program, notoriously known for actively recruiting D-I transfers. These are Division III schools who act with all the philosophical integrity demanded by D-III athletics, except with one traditional sport that plays in Division I, which abides by all the rules and highest integrity that Division I demands. They have absolutely nothing to do with the "impurity" that's entering Division III.

John McCardell, president of Middlebury College and chair of the President's Council, spins it this way:

"This is not a contest between the pure and the impure, but it acknowledges a major concern about multidivision participation with financial aid," he said to USA Today. "If there is a single, core principle that binds Division III institutions together, it is not giving athletic scholarships. This is part of an attempt to bring our practices into harmony with our philosophy."

I don't know if McCardell, who lords over a great institution with a great athletic program, actually feels this way or he's just following the pack, but when it comes to the specific legislation in queston, these ministers of D-III need a major dose of historical perspective. They have this whole thing insanely backwards.

There was a time when there were no Division classifications. Then, just like today, schools tended to emphasize one sport that they did well. As a result, Clarkson always had a strong hockey program, even if they didn't do as well in other sports.

When it came time to split the schools into different classifications, Clarkson logically moved to Division III. They weren't that strong in most sports, and as a smaller school, tucked away in the middle of nowhere, it wouldn't have made sense to compete at Division I.

But — and this is crucial — at the same time, it would have been silly to force Clarkson to play Division III in hockey. It had a strong program, embraced by the community. There was no logical reason to force them out of playing the same kind of quality opponents they were used to playing — against whom they had long-standing traditional rivalries.

Why then, doesn't this apply to today? It is just as absurd for the powers that be to force Clarkson to play D-III hockey now as it would have been back then. The same circumstances still apply.

For Clarkson, it was never in the slightest about flaunting their D-I-ness to the benefit of their D-III sports. It is, and always has been, about simply upholding the tradition and rivalries of their hockey program. Show me where Clarkson and Rensselaer are tearing it up in D-III, winning championship after championship.

Why is this wrong for these D-III schools to continue to support the tradition of their D-I hockey programs? Forget about philosophical statements — explain how doing so directly negatively impacts the integrity of Division III schools as a whole. It clearly does not.

When St. Lawrence started allowing athletic scholarships in 1997, coach Joe Marsh repeatedly told me how this would actually increase the academic integrity of their hockey players. And it did. And let's not forget, three of these schools play in the ECAC, where, by league rules, they are held to a higher academic standard.

So, now that I have spent 1,000 words preaching to the converted, the problem remains. There are over 400 schools that will vote on this, and almost none of them have any incentive to care. They just say "hey, not my problem."

Colorado College can't get any breaks from Minnesota and Wisconsin — those schools have no power here. The fate of CC's hockey program is not in the hands of CC, WCHA or even the Big 10. It's in the hands of schools like Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Shasta Bible College and Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Perhaps the latter can help us analyze how this makes any sense.

At this point, it's healthy to remind everyone what we've been trying to tell people forever: The big-bad NCAA doesn't make the rules. The schools make the rules. The NCAA helps enforce them and administrate them.

Alas, because that's the way I am, I hold out hope, that somehow the outrage of 12 schools will get heard by enough people who understand what poppycock this entire idea is.

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