by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
The hand wringing is over and everyone can breathe a sigh of relief. Enough common sense hit the NCAA Convention floor Monday to give the Division III "play up" schools a victory of sorts, as an amendement to Prop 65 passed allowing them to continue awarding athletic scholarships in select D-I sports.
We can all stop complaining and worrying about it now. It's over. Though it remains crazy it ever had to come to this.
The people who were in favor of eliminating scholarships for these programs ranged from ignorant to bull-headed. Some college presidents, understandably, were coming at this from a completely different perspective, wrapping their hands around the issue from the opposite side. This is what always made the issue so scary.
The idea of Division III reform — making sure that D-III doesn't drift too far away from its original core principles — was always a laudatory concept. But since 416 of the 424 schools had no stake in this issue, as it pertained to D-I hockey, the vast majority of them also lacked perspective.
To them, the "play-up" schools are another example of Division III drifting too far towards Division I.
"There's nothing that prevents them from continuing their Division I competition, but do it without giving financial aid," said Donna Ledwin, commissioner of the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference. "Division III schools should never give athletic-related financial aid — ever."
Lincoln College president Ivory Nelson added, "It's special interest legislation that gives special treatment to eight members. This is not reform."
This outrage continues to be misdirected and misguided. I'd call it mindless pontificating, but they really seem to believe it.
Their blind spot causes them to miss why these eight schools are playing one D-I sport to begin with: They were playing at the highest level in those sports at the time the NCAA implemented the three classification system; those schools were never going to be able to play D-I in everything, wanted to be a part of the D-III system, but wanted to continue the traditions of that one sport.
These schools embrace the D-III philosophy across the board, get no money from D-I tournaments, have other restrictions, and have strong academic requirements. And being in D-I in one sport hurts absolutely no one.
Yet some still stand on their perception of principle. Others you get the sense are grandstanding, like Middlebury president John McCardell, head of the NCAA's President's Council, who one day complained that having a D-I sport gives an unfair advantage to the other D-III sports at that school, and the next day, when he couldn't back up the statement, claimed the opposite — that the mediocrity of the D-III sports shows that too many resources are given to the D-I sport.
Then there are others who are being purposely ignorant or just plain petty. And this is where Union president Roger Hull comes in.
Hull is from a school that is part of the UCAA, the all-sport conference that St. Lawrence, Clarkson and RPI participate. All three of those schools also participate with Union in D-I hockey's ECAC. But Hull went against every other fellow league member that stood in support of their bretheren and voted against the amendment. Those other schools supported the amendment because they knew better than anyone that SLU, Clarkson and RPI do not have an unfair competitive advantage in D-III sports just because they have one D-I sport.
Ultimately, Hull said he was standing on conscience. His comments betray that. He said he told his fellow presidents that he would abstain from voting — unless one of them stood up and argued that scholarships were necessary to remain competitive. Once one of them did make that argument, Hull decided to play hardball and vote no anyway.
Let me give Hull a ticket on the cluetrain: scholarships are needed for those schools to be competitive; competitive on the ice, and competitive for D-I scholars, since they all compete against the Ivy Leagues.
Unless, you share Hull's definition of competitive.
"Let me tell you of my idea of being competitive: fielding a team that has a reasonable chance of winning every time it steps on the ice," Hull said. "And when they got to 40 percent [winning percentage], I was proud, and when they reached nearly 50 percent a few years ago, I was tremendously proud of them."
We can only hope Hull doesn't run the math department the same way.
If you're going to do something, you do it right. Everything that happens at a school is a reflection of the school — even, gasp, athletics. Schools that have shoddy athletic fields, and shoddy sports information departments, are also the schools that are just plain shoddy, from their art department to zoology. Winning isn't the only thing, but you should provide the environment that makes winning possible.
For years, we've wondered why Union ever bothered to play up in Division I if the school wasn't going to give its hockey team the resources to compete. It's had two winning seasons, the best of which came in 1996-97, an 18-win season under Stan Moore. Moore then resigned to become an assistant at Colgate again, frustrated with the realization the school was never going to bother helping the hockey program.
In Hull's world, that's good enough.
No one can fault Union's Nate Leaman for taking an opportuity to become a head coach. No one can fault players on Union who came there to work hard at being Division I athletes. They should all be commended for doing their best to compete under these circumstances.
But if these people aren't going to be given the resources necessary to compete in Division I, then why should Union bother? What's the point? You are condemning your program to nothing more than the occasional victory, which Hull admits.
"For me, doing what I believe in means saying that athletic scholarships do not belong on a campus like ours," Hull said.
Perhaps Hull should be reminded that it's OK for him to do whatever he wants on his campus, but he doesn't have to make other campuses do the same thing. But he appears to be cut from the same cloth as his NESCAC pals, like McCardell.
Our desire as fans to see our favorite teams excel should not let us stray too far from the point of college athletics. But in hockey, it doesn't have to. One of the great parts about hockey, in relation to basketball and football, is that hockey players have legitimate choices. If they're a phenom, they can play pro hockey at 18. If they think they're a phenom and don't want to go to school, they can play major junior. If they want to get an education and still play very good hockey, they can go to U.S. colleges.
As such, hockey doesn't have to be corrupted by becoming a de facto minor leagues.
Of course, if you really want to just get the education, and/or know you're not quite a top-flight hockey player, you can play Division III hockey. As such, the spirit of the Division III reform movement as a whole, if not some of the specific proposals, is worthy of support.
All of which makes the pontificating of Hull and his allies unnecessary.
Meanwhile, in bypassing his sense of "collegiality," Hull has alienated his fellow UCAA members, and most of the college hockey community. Something Union's coaches and players really didn't need.